Pirates notebook: Bucs to target pitching on trade market

Rob Biertempfel
| Friday, July 11, 2014, 8:06 p.m.

CINCINNATI — The four-game series against the St. Louis Cardinals was a mixed bag for the Pirates' bullpen.

The relievers were tagged for walk-off losses in the first two games. Wednesday, the bullpen was strong for 4 23 innings after starter Brandon Cumpton was rocked. Edinson Volquez tossed the team's first complete game Thursday, so everyone got some rest (except for closer Mark Melancon, who warmed up briefly in the ninth inning).

Manager Clint Hurdle said he is not concerned that his relievers have been overused in the first half of the season.

“I think we're in a very manageable place,” Hurdle said. “No red flags.”

Tony Watson has emerged as one of the top relievers in the National League and earned an All-Star bid. Jason Grilli blew four saves and was traded. Melancon took over as closer and is outperforming his career stats in ERA and WHIP. The rest of the group has been up and down.

Through Thursday, the bullpen ranked sixth in the NL in ERA (3.40), was seventh in WHIP (1.27) and 12th in batting average against (.246). Pirates relievers had the second-most blown saves (14), had pitched the fourth-most innings (288 23) and had allowed the fourth-most homers (27). They added their 15th blown save Friday night against the Reds.

With less than three weeks to go before the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline, the Pirates have focused most of their attention on pitching — starters and relievers.

One possible bullpen target is San Diego Padres closer Huston Street, who has a 1.13 ERA, 23 saves and a 0.78 walks plus hits per innings pitched. Reinforcing the back end of the bullpen would send Melancon back into a setup role, where he has thrived.

Street is making $7 million this season, and there is a $7 million team option for 2015. Street has drawn much interest, and the Padres' farm system is relatively barren, so the acquisition cost would be high.

Earlier this week, the Pirates had a scout in Boston watching the Red Sox-Chicago White Sox series. There are several players the Red Sox might consider dealing, including reliever Andrew Miller and reliever/starter Felix Doubront.

Miller, a lefty who will be a free agent after this season, has nine holds and a 0.95 WHIP. He's one of three pitchers in the majors who's averaging more than 14.5 strikeouts per nine innings.

Doubront, 26, recently was moved to the bullpen after going 2-4 with a 5.19 ERA in 10 starts. The left-hander is making $586,000 this year and is under team control for two more seasons.

If the Pirates look internally for a reliever, the top options at Triple-A Indianapolis are lefty Andy Oliver and righty Vin Mazzaro. Neither is on the 40-man roster, although they have been in the past.

Oliver has flourished since being converted to a reliever, notching 10 saves, a 1.84 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP in 31 games. Walks always have been his bugaboo. He's better this year but still has allowed 26 walks in 44 innings.

Mazzaro hasn't stuck in two stints with the Pirates and twice has been designated for assignment, when every other club passed up a chance to claim him. In 16 games at Indy, he has a 1.48 ERA and a 0.99 WHIP.

Cole out a while

Right-hander Gerrit Cole (sore right lat) will not be in the starting rotation for its first five-man turn coming out of the All-Star break. The Pirates are back in action July 17, and Cole is eligible to come off the disabled list July 20.

“He won't be (pitching) on the 20th,” Hurdle said. “That's out.”

Hurdle has said Cole will make at least one minor league rehab start — something the right-hander did not do during his first stint on the DL in June. Cole might not rejoin the big league rotation until August.

Marte still out

Left fielder Starling Marte, who is on bereavement leave, is not expected to rejoin the team before the All-Star break.

Marte went on leave Wednesday after the death of his mother in law. A player must spend at least three days but not more than seven on the bereavement list.

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

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