Pirates bullpen continues to evolve, adjust minus their closer
BALTIMORE — Not much changed for Mark Melancon when Jason Grilli went on the disabled list last week.
Melancon will move out of his eighth-inning setup role and fill in as the Pirates' closer for at least a couple of weeks.
“It's just a matter of when I stretch — an inning later,” Melancon said with a chuckle. “I've been pretty much a ‘closer' in the eighth inning, so it's the same (approach).”
Grilli's injury has had a ripple effect on the other relief pitchers, too. It's nothing new to them. One of the bullpen's strengths last season was its ability to adapt and cope with stressful circumstances. That's especially true for the back-end duo of Melancon and Tony Watson.
“We all call ourselves ‘failed starters' down there (in the pen), so we've all been in different situations before,” Watson said. “We're all capable of eating up some innings if we need to, or just coming in for one guy and getting a big out. It's something we like and something we're used to.”
A left-hander, Watson's role has grown each season since his debut in 2011. Last year, he ranked 10th in the National League with 22 holds, and his 0.88 WHIP was among the top 25 for National League relievers. Of his 70 appearances, 22 came in the seventh inning and 37 were in the eighth.
Manager Clint Hurdle is confident using Watson as a full-fledged setup man instead of merely a left-on-left specialist. Over his career, Watson has been just as effective against right-handed batters (.196 average, .633 OPS) as lefties (.218 average, .570 OPS).
“I don't really look at the splits much,” Watson said. “I just look at the hitter and attack, go right at him.”
Watson has a fastball that touches 94 mph with good movement, and he's able to spot it on both sides of the plate. He has a healthy 11.9 strikeout per nine innings rate, but can be just as effective pitching to contact.
“I think everybody in the league is aware now that he pitches glove-side,” Hurdle said. “What he's done to counter-punch that is his changeup has become a filthy pitch for him.”
Watson is throwing his changeup more often against left-handed batters.
“We call that speed-dialing the hitter,” Hurdle said. “What they see is fastball, so they either swing through it or they hit it 450 feet foul. He's continuing to evolve, but those are the weapons that have allowed him to become the power tool he is on the mound.”
Saturday's game against the St. Louis Cardinals was the Pirates' first save situation since Grilli went on the DL. Watson tossed a 1-2-3 eighth inning — retiring right-handed hitters Yadier Molina, Allen Craig and Peter Bourjos. And Melancon was perfect in the ninth.
Melancon took over as closer for six weeks last season after Grilli was injured in July. A closer with the Houston Astros in 2011, Melancon had no trouble moving back into that role just four weeks into this season.
“You don't anticipate it happening this early,” Melancon said. “But other than that, it's the same. Everybody is well-equipped and able to do any role. That's what's nice about our bullpen.”
Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Pirates notebook: Bucs set single-season attendance record
- Pirates find a bridge at end of baseball world in Holdzkom
- Monday’s scouting report: Pirates at Braves
- Pirates, Worley edge Brewers, 1-0, move to cusp of playoffs
- Pirates notebook: Morton scratched from Sunday’s start
- Pirates notebook: Worley raring to go after skipping last start
- Sunday’s scouting report: Brewers at Pirates
- Martin’s homer rescues Pirates in 4-2 victory over Brewers
- Rossi: The series that will define these Pirates
- Pirates’ 5-game winning streak ends with 1-0 loss to Brewers
- Pirates analyst Kent Tekulve recovering after heart transplant