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Pirates consider extended work for Hanrahan

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Saturday, Aug. 6, 2011

All along, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle has said it's the job of his other relievers to get the ball to closer Joel Hanrahan — affirming Hanrahan's role as a ninth-inning pitcher.

It seemed a no-brainer early in the season, when the bullpen was among the most reliable in the game. But the relief corps has struggled in the past week, raising questions about whether Hurdle should use Hanrahan earlier in games.

"We haven't had a conversation with Joel about pitching two innings yet," Hurdle said Friday. "What you'd be asking a guy to do is re-create himself in the middle of the season."

Still, Hurdle did not rule out the possibility of Hanrahan becoming a multiple-inning closer.

"We've talked about stretching him out," he said. "Maybe he can be a little more versatile with a little more experience."

Hanrahan, 29, closed for the Washington Nationals in 2008 and parts of 2009. Last year, he was used in a setup role until late in the season, when the Pirates traded closer Octavio Dotel.

On Thursday, the Pirates took a 6-4 lead into the eighth inning against the Chicago Cubs. Hurdle planned to put Hanrahan in the game with two outs, but the Cubs scored three runs before it got to that point. Hanrahan wound up pitching a scoreless ninth, and the Pirates lost, 7-6.

"When you take on turbulence, there's always going to be questions and comments," Hurdle said. "I pay more attention to the people I'm working with, the people on the team and how they react. I take into consideration how they've been used, the number of times they've (warmed) up during a game, all those things and try to make the best decision at the time."

Hanrahan has worked more than one inning in four games this season, converting three saves and blowing one (his only miscue of the season). Three of the outings lasted four outs, and one went five.

"(Pitching coach Ray Searage) is firm in his belief that a five-out save right now can be a very big reach for Joel," Hurdle said. "We did it one time in Cincinnati and, fortunately, we got a double-play ball on the third or fourth pitch."

Hanrahan needed 20 pitches to get those five outs April 17 against the Reds. It was his sixth-highest pitch count in an appearance this season.

Hanrahan averages 13.7 pitches per inning, which ranks 92nd among relievers with at least 40 innings. Cubs closer Carlos Marmol's 19.3 average is the highest in the majors. Other relievers with high averages include Jason Frasor (18.6) of the Chicago White Sox, San Diego's Heath Bell (18.0) and Milwaukee's John Axford (17.4).

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