Pirates notebook: Frieri optimistic about fresh start

Travis Sawchik
| Saturday, June 28, 2014, 5:15 p.m.

Newly acquired Pirates relief pitcher Ernesto Frieri arrived at PNC Park on Saturday two hours before the first pitch tired from a morning of travel and flight delays but energized to be in possession of a fresh start.

“Maybe this is going to be good for me because it was a little bit of a struggle for me in the American League West,” Frieri said. “When you're in one league for a while, hitters get to know you, and they make adjustments. I'm pretty confident everything is going to change over here. I always loved the National League. … Pittsburgh is one of my favorite cities. The ballpark is amazing.”

Frieri owns a 6.39 ERA, doubling his career ERA (3.19). The Pirates are betting he's a candidate to improve like Mark Melancon was when they acquired him in the Joel Hanrahan trade in December 2012.

Like Melancon, Frieri arrives with strong underlying indicators. He's averaging 11 strikeouts per nine innings and fewer than three walks per nine innings, but he has allowed a troubling number of home runs. Frieri said getting back on track is a matter regaining command of his fastball, which averages 94.2 mph.

“I've been throwing strikes but not quality strikes,” Frieri said. “That's what I'm looking forward to doing better over here. Hit spots. Throw the ball wherever I want.”

Frieri said he already has some level of comfort because he knows Pirates pitcher Edinson Volquez, and bullpen coach Euclides Rojas was his pitching coach in winter ball in Venezuela.

While Frieri has ninth-inning experience, manager Clint Hurdle said there are “defined roles” in the bullpen, and Melancon will continue to operate as the closer. Hurdle also labeled Tony Watson, Justin Wilson and Jared Hughes as “back-end guys” but said Frieri has a chance to join them in late-game situations.

“This guy has every opportunity to be a back-end guy,” Hurdle said. “He's here to pitch.”

Cumpton optioned

Brandon Cumpton was optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis on Saturday to make room for Gerrit Cole, who was activated from the disabled list.

Volquez will start Sunday. Jeff Locke will start Tuesday after the off day. He will be followed by Charlie Morton, Vance Worley and Cole.

With Worley out of options, the Pirates had to choose between keeping Cumpton or Locke.

“It wasn't a pitch-off. It wasn't, ‘You came in third place,' ” Hurdle said. “Worley doesn't have a (minor league) option. He's pitched well. He's staying. Locke was an All-Star last year. He's pitched well. He's staying. … I said, ‘You have no reason to hang your head. Stay hungry. We are going to need you again.' ”

Still no Marte

Starling Marte (finger) again was held out of the starting lineup as Josh Harrison played left field and batted fifth. Marte has not started a game since June 24 at Tampa Bay.

Better or worse?

Hurdle said he believes Andrew McCutchen is a better outfielder this season than in 2012, when he won a Gold Glove in center field.

“I think initial breaks are better. I think the routes continue to improve,” Hurdle said. “The throwing arm continues to show up, not just the accuracy but the strength.”

Defensive metrics tell a different story, with McCutchen going from nine runs saved above average in 2013 to nine runs saved below average this season, according to Baseball Info Solutions. The metric decline is tied largely to a decline in range, but McCutchen's arm is also rated as a liability.

New, old look

As part of Heritage Weekend, the Pirates and Mets wore Negro League uniforms Saturday honoring the Pittsburgh Crawfords and the Brooklyn Royal Giants.

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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