Pirates reliever Webb stuck in tough spot as Rule 5 pick
BRADENTON, Fla. — Long reliever, lefty specialist, spot starter, mop-up guy. Tyler Webb is willing to fill any job the Pirates offer.
“I'll be the bat boy if they want,” Webb said.
The Pirates plucked Webb off the New York Yankees Triple-A roster in December's Rule 5 Draft. That has put him in an unusual spot during spring training.
Some guys go through camp not knowing whether they'll wind up in the majors or minors. Webb isn't even sure which franchise he'll call home when the regular season begins.
“You try to block it out as much as possible, focus on where you are now and not worry about it,” Webb said.
On Tuesday morning, Webb was among 37 players still in big league camp. He sat in the clubhouse, looking relaxed, as players were called one at a time into manager Clint Hurdle's office to be told they're headed to the minors.
Webb said he has gotten no hints from management about whether he'll stick with the Pirates.
“I wouldn't speculate on what they're thinking,” Webb said. “That's why they make the big bucks. No real indication yet. I'll just pitch as well as I can and see what happens.”
Webb didn't allow a run over his first three outings (four innings) this spring. The next three were a bumpy ride: one allowed against the Minnesota Twins, two runs on four hits against Baltimore, one run on three hits against the Boston Red Sox.
On Monday night, Webb tossed three innings against the Twins — his longest and most impressive game. He gave up one hit and struck out four, including a whiff of slugger Miguel Sano.
“I think it was needed,” Webb said. “I picked up my tempo a little bit and didn't take as long between pitches. I got in a groove and tried to keep it going as long as I could. It seemed to work pretty well.”
Through seven outings (12 innings), Webb has put up a 3.00 ERA with 11 strikeouts and one walk. His performance Monday, though, was huge.
“Good time to have a good outing,” general manager Neal Huntington said.
Sano went down swinging at a changeup, a pitch Webb has relied upon since the Yankees made him a 10th-round pick in the 2013 draft. Until Monday, however, Webb had struggled to get the changeup working.
“Trying to find that while getting everything else going has been a (challenge),” Webb said. “You weigh the options of what you need to work on the most. When you work three innings, you need everything to get through it, so it was good to have a longer outing to work on getting everything going.”
The slider, a pitch Webb has been working on the past year or so, also came into play against the Twins. With three decent pitches and the ability to work multiple innings, Webb raised some eyebrows as camp is coming to a close.
“Our guys who do our analytic work liked him (before the Rule 5 draft),” manager Clint Hurdle said. “(Monday), he got the attention of some people who maybe thought he was just here on a whim. He did some pitching.”
Rule 5 pickups usually are buried deep in bullpens and rarely used. What will be Hurdle's level of trust during the season, if the Pirates opt to keep Webb?
“We'll wait and see,” Hurdle said. “I love the way he's shown up and competed for a guy who has no major league experience. (Monday) was the best stuff we've seen from him all spring and the longest look we've had of him, as well. Good downhill angle to the fastball, and it had finish and location. He spiked a few breaking balls early, but he also threw it (well).
“He's been fun to watch grow and develop. Sometimes, just (having) a new chalkboard to write on can help you with some things.”
Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.