Pirates notebook: Team calls up reliever, sends down Lambo

Pirates pitcher Kris Johnson strikes out to end the game during the 16th inning against the Diamondbacks on Sunday, Aug. 18, 2013, at PNC Park.
Pirates pitcher Kris Johnson strikes out to end the game during the 16th inning against the Diamondbacks on Sunday, Aug. 18, 2013, at PNC Park.
Photo by Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Rob Biertempfel
| Sunday, Aug. 18, 2013, 2:48 p.m.

To prop up their overworked bullpen, the Pirates on Sunday called up left-handed reliever Kris Johnson from Triple-A Indianapolis.

To get Johnson on the 40-man roster, catcher Michael McKenry (knee surgery) was moved from the 15- to the 60-day disabled list. To clear space on the active roster for Johnson, outfielder Andrew Lambo was optioned to Indianapolis.

Johnson, 28, is 10-4 with two saves in 25 games (20 starts) with Indy. He leads the International League with a 2.41 ERA. He pitched six innings of relief Sunday and took the loss in a 16-inning, 4-2 Diamondbacks victory.

“Chris gives us the most innings and pitches available,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “We looked at the reliever group at Triple-A, and Kris has put himself in a position to be a legitimate September (call-up) candidate. He was our best guy available to help this club today.”

After being called up Tuesday, Lambo appeared in four games and went 1 for 9 with one RBI. Huntington said Lambo will be recalled once the 10-day waiting period is up.

The bullpen was depleted Saturday when starter Jeff Locke lasted only 2 23 innings in a 15-5 loss against the Diamondbacks. Three relievers who worked Saturday — Jeanmar Gomez, Bryan Morris and Vin Mazzaro — were not available Sunday.

Staying course with Locke

Huntington said Locke will make his next start as scheduled. Locke (9-4, 2.90 ERA) has won just one of his past seven starts.

“There may come a point where, to keep him fresh through October, we may short-start him or skip a turn,” Huntington said. “But now is not the time.”

Minor league trade

The Pirates acquired right-hander Doug Mathis from the Miami Marlins for a player to be named later or cash. Mathis was assigned to Indianapolis.

Mathis, 30, has not pitched in the majors since 2010, when he went 1-1 with a 6.04 ERA in 13 relief outings for the Texas Rangers.

Cole keeps it down

Manager Clint Hurdle has been impressed by Gerrit Cole's ability to keep the ball down in the strike zone, a valuable trait that can be hard to find in power pitchers.

“A lot of the big throwers, at least in my experience, spray the ball. And when they spray it, it's up top,” Hurdle said. “That hasn't been the case with Gerrit at all. He really gets out and down with his delivery. It's a quick arm (action) at the end. It's down angle.”

That helps explain Cole's 49 percent groundball rate.

“It's probably the way he's been built since he's been on a mound,” Hurdle said. “The low drive, the big legs. He's got that build where — you hate to use the term — but it's almost a drop-and-drive type delivery.”

In his starts Aug. 2 against Colorado and Aug. 8 against Miami, Cole's groundball rate was below 50 percent. He took the loss against the Rockies and got a no-decision against the Marlins. Friday, nearly two-thirds of the outs Cole got against Arizona came on grounders.

The next Alvarez?

The Pirates have been scouting Cuban defector Jose Dariel Abreu and will attend the showcase workout he is expected to hold in September. A Pirates scout has watched Abreu play in three recent international tournaments.

One scout said Abreu, a 26-year-old first baseman who is 6-foot-3, 250 pounds, has “Pedro Alvarez-type power with more hit-ability and the same body type, too.”

Abreu has hired an agent but still must establish residency outside of Cuba before MLB can declare him a free agent.

The bidding for Abreu is expected to be fierce — Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports speculated it could reach $60 million — likely putting him well beyond the Pirates' reach.

“We like him,” Huntington said. “It will be interesting to see where the bidding goes.”


Huntington said the team is still gathering information about an on-field brawl Saturday between High-A Bradenton manager Frank Kremblas and Fort Myers manager Doug Mientkiewicz.

“We want to make sure we get all sides of the story, and we'll handle it accordingly,” Huntington said without elaborating.

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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