Pirates' Melancon has been consistent since moving into closer's role

| Thursday, July 24, 2014, 9:27 p.m.

Mark Melancon got off to a fast start in the second half.

In three games against the Colorado Rockies to open up the Pirates' most recent homestand, the 29-year-old righthander was called upon three times. He pitched three consecutive scoreless ninth innings, earning two saves, one no-decision and a well-deserved Monday night off.

Still, Melancon was eager to add to his string of success.

“I talked to him today, and he said, ‘Hey, Ray, I'm good to go if need be,'” pitching coach Ray Searage said on Monday. “We'll have to address that and see what the needs are. We're not real high on a guy throwing four days in a row.”

Melancon, who has 18 saves on the season, ultimately got his time off, sitting idle for all three games of a Dodgers series that never produced a save opportunity.

The past three appearances for Melancon (1-2, 2.22 ERA) have made for one of his more effective series, and he has yet to blow a save since officially being named the Pirates' closer June 20, but for now, he's reserving his excitement.

“You feed off the emotion and the momentum, but it's not the end of the day for me,” Melancon said. “It's even keel, not a roller coaster.”

The outings also come on the heels of heightened uncertainty about the future of the back end of the Pirates' bullpen.

The Pirates first eyed former San Diego Padres closer Huston Street, who was traded to the Los Angeles Angels last Friday night in a six-player deal.

Sunday reports indicated the Pirates' interest in Padres' set-up man Joaquin Benoit, who recorded 24 saves for the Detroit Tigers in 2013.

A day later, the Pirates reportedly were one of 10 teams in Philadelphia to scout lefthanded Phillies reliever Antonio Bastardo.

Closing is familiar for Melancon, who is second on the University of Arizona's career saves list. In 2011, he recorded 20 saves for the Astros after filling in for a struggling Brandon Lyon.

In his past two seasons with the Pirates, he twice filled in for an injured Jason Grilli, notching 26 saves before getting the official nod from manager Clint Hurdle.

It's this experience, he said, that long has made him ready to assume the role full time with the Pirates.

“I feel from the first day of the season I've been capable of doing it,” he said.

With the July 31 nonwaiver trade deadline still days away, there are plenty of distractions for players, particularly those in the bullpen, with which to be consumed.

Hurdle said that since his tenure in Pittsburgh began, his club has “grown and matured” to block out the rumors, adding that most Pirates players “have a very good touch and feel for this time of year.”

Melancon said he is no exception, adding he still has a job to do over the final two-plus months of the regular season.

“I don't really read what you guys write,” Melancon said. “I've got two kids and a wife, too.”

Andrew Erickson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at aerickson@tribweb.com.

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