Pirates bullpen’s success lessens need for long outings from starters
Back when Clint Hurdle was a player, he remembers five-man bullpens that offered fewer options for managers and more opportunities for starters to complete nine innings.
But as the Pittsburgh Pirates manager noted Wednesday afternoon, that was “a long time ago.”
“Now, you have seven-man bullpens, sometimes, eight-man bullpens (the Pirates’ current number),” he said. “You’re looking for matchups.
“There has been more strength and more attention paid to how you put together your bullpen to put away the game.”
Through 85 games, the Pirates haven’t had a pitcher throw nine innings. Starters have made it into the seventh only 22 times.
But the bullpen, previously a liability, recovered and played a big role in the Pirates winning 11 of 16 games and moving to within four games of first place before Wednesday’s game against the Chicago Cubs at PNC Park. Three relievers, Felipe Vazquez (2.00), Francisco Liriano (2.63) and Kyle Crick (2.70), have been effective through most of the season.
• Richard Rodriguez improved his ERA from 6.45 on May 30 to 3.39.
• Clay Holmes’ ERA fell to 4.21 after a high of 5.40 on June 1.
• Chris Stratton gave up eight earned runs in his last appearance for the Los Angeles Angels on May 4. In six of Stratton’s first seven games with the Pirates, opponents managed zero or one run.
• Michael Feliz put together six scoreless, hitless outings in six of seven games.
With fresh, effective arms coming out of the bullpen, who needs complete games?
Pitchers seldom are given the chance to complete games in the minors. Then, in the majors, managers and general managers are reluctant to let their starters even see batters for a third time. Part of it is connected to the huge financial investment teams make in the best starters.
But Hurdle said there might be another reason.
“The other thing my eyes have told me and, analytically, we’ve had some conversations about it … there seems to be some damage that can occur (in starts after complete games),” he said.
Jameson Taillon was the only Pirates pitcher to throw nine innings last season, and his subsequent outings were mixed.
After shutting out the Cincinnati Reds on April 8, he threw six scoreless innings in his next start. In the next two, he was yanked in the second and fourth innings after giving up five and seven runs, respectively.
But after throwing nine innings against the Colorado Rockies on Aug. 7, he allowed only seven runs in his next four starts and the Pirates won three of them.
Joe Musgrove, who has reached the seventh inning in a team-high nine games this season, noted the third time around the lineup “averages get a lot higher, and numbers get a lot worse for pitchers.”
Still, Hurdle understands how pitchers think.
“I will tell you we have a few guys out there still looking to throw one more or get their first one,” he said. “You want to throw nine innings, and you want to walk off and you don’t want to hand the ball to somebody.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .