Pirates bullpen’s success lessens need for long outings from starters | TribLIVE.com

Pirates bullpen’s success lessens need for long outings from starters

Jerry DiPaola
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez pitches against the Padres on June 22, 2019, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates reliever Clay Holmes pitches during the sixth inning against the Cubs on July 2, 2019, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez celebrates with catcher Elias Diaz after defeating the Padres on June 22, 2019, at PNC Park.

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.”

Love baseball? Stay up-to-date with the latest Pittsburgh Pirates news.

Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

Categories: Sports | Pirates
TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.