Pirates' Watson carving niche as shutdown reliever
The Pirates' Tony Watson took the mound against the St. Louis Cardinals on Sunday while trouble was brewing.
There were two outs in the sixth inning of a tie game, and the Cardinals had runners on first and third.
Matt Adams, a career .319 hitter with runners in scoring position, was at the plate. The left-handed reliever's plan was to get a strike then try to expand the strike zone and throw a couple sliders that Adams would either roll over on or swing at and miss.
Adams struck out, the Pirates went back to the dugout, and Watson's quick work of Yadier Molina, Allen Craig and Jhonny Peralta in the seventh helped the Pirates defeat the Cardinals, 2-1. Watson got his first win of the year.
“I'm just trying to go out there and keep doing the same things,” Watson said. “I felt good in spring training. I'm still working on some things, little mechanical things that (pitching coach Ray Searage and bullpen coach Euclides Rojas) always pick up on, but I'm just trying to be myself, go out there and pound the zone and get weak contact. Keep the pitches down so I can keep going out there every night.”
Going into Tuesday's series opener against the Cubs, Watson hadn't allowed a hit in 3 1⁄3 innings early on this season.
Watson gave up a solo home run to Shin-Soo Choo in last season's wild-card playoff game against the Reds. It was the only homer he allowed against a left-handed batter all season.
However, he did not allow a run in three appearances against the Cardinals in the NLDS.
Watson ended the 2013 regular season by not allowing a run in 21 straight appearances.
Watson was charged with a run just three times in his last 42 games going back to June 4.
“He's one of the nastiest lefties in the league,” closer Jason Grilli said. “He's good. He's got the makeup of a solid performer that's capable of doing whatever's asked of him, whether it's multiple innings, one inning, coming in in an inherited-runner situation.
“He just knows how to pitch, and he's got unbelievable stuff. It's a testament to who he is talent-wise, but as a person, no one really gets to see how hard he works.
“The kid's an ox and he's a big asset to our bullpen.”
This is the 28-year-old's third full season in the majors. A former starter, Watson now has a set routine he trusts, and having worked a full year with catcher Russell Martin and knowing Tony Sanchez from time in the minors and late last season also helps.
“But the league knows us, too, and the teams we play know who they're getting when the gate opens,” Watson said. “They're always adjusting, so we have to adjust as well.”
Sanchez said he and Watson worked in off the plate Sunday, and that made his changeup extremely effective.
“You can't speak enough about what he's capable of,” Sanchez said. “He's probably one of the best lefty relievers in the game, easy as that. I have no problem saying that.”