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Pirates notebook: After vote of confidence, Tony Watson blows another save

| Wednesday, June 7, 2017, 5:03 p.m.
Pirates closer Tony Watson looks down after giving up a two-run home run to tie the game during the ninth inning against the Diamondbacks Monday, May 29, 2017, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Pirates closer Tony Watson looks down after giving up a two-run home run to tie the game during the ninth inning against the Diamondbacks Monday, May 29, 2017, at PNC Park.

BALTIMORE — Pirates manager Clint Hurdle gave embattled closer Tony Watson a vote of confidence before Wednesday's game against the Baltimore Orioles.

About eight hours later — after Watson served up another two-run homer and blew a save for the second day in a row — Hurdle had to defend himself.

“I made decisions, and when they don't work out, they're on me,” Hurdle said after Watson stumbled again in Wednesday's 9-6 loss in 12 innings. “It falls on me. I believe in the men. I don't put it on them. I made a decision that didn't work out. We always talk about ownership in the game. A manager's got to take ownership of some things, as well.”

On Tuesday, Watson failed to hold a two-run lead in the ninth, which led to a 6-5 loss in 10 innings. After that game, Hurdle huddled with general manager Neal Huntington and pitching coach Ray Searage and mulled a bullpen shakeup. Management decided to stick with Watson.

“A fixed mindset, you change the closer and you put in (Felipe) Rivero. And there's an argument for that,” Hurdle said. “The argument against that for me right now is I still believe our best bullpen sets up the way it's been working. The ball will go to Tony (in the ninth inning).”

That's exactly what Hurdle did in the ninth inning Wednesday, with the Pirates clinging to a 6-2 lead and two runners on base. Watson gave up four runs — including Trey Mancini's tying, two-run homer — for his fifth blown save.

Will Hurdle re-think his decision to keep Watson in the closer's job?

“We'll have an opportunity to discuss some things on the way back (to Pittsburgh),” Hurdle said. “We've got to assess who's available (Thursday), as well. So, that will be a thought.”

Watson had a good April, when he racked up seven straight saves with a 0.96 ERA. He has scuffled since the start of May, though, and has blown each of his past three save opportunities.

After allowing Jonathan Schoop's game-tying, two-run homer on Tuesday, Watson's ERA has ballooned to 3.91.

Rivero is tied for the National League lead with 30 outings and ranks second with 13 holds. He owns a 0.60 ERA, 0.77 WHIP and averages 9.60 strikeouts per nine innings.

“Felipe has pitched in more (high) leverage situations than anybody on our team,” Hurdle said. “And there's a guy in the American League (Andrew Miller) who's the best reliever in baseball and who doesn't have a save.”

Miller's excellence in a high-leverage/setup role has helped give the Cleveland Indians arguably the most dominant bullpen in the AL. Hurdle argued that Rivero can do the same for the Pirates.

“If you move guys and put the guy with the best stuff in the ninth inning, there is no guarantee you're going to get there,” Hurdle said.

Hurdle also considered making Juan Nicasio the closer.

“That was given some serious thought,” Hurdle said. “However, I've always said I want to be the first believer and the last believer, and show confidence when there may not be a lot of other confidence.”

After studying video of Watson, Hurdle and Searage have spotted some mechanical issues that they believe can be fixed.

“It's flat pitches, it's (poor) execution,” Watson said. “It's just not good stuff. No excuses. I've got to find a way to get it done.”

Cervelli goes on DL

Catcher Francisco Cervelli was placed on the seven-day concussion disabled list after being hit on the jaw by a foul tip Tuesday.

Jacob Stallings was called up from Triple-A Indianapolis. Elias Diaz was promoted from Indy on May 30 when Chris Stewart went on the DL with a sore hamstring.

Cervelli has a history of concussions, but the treatment and DL time he experienced before might not correlate to what he needs now.

“We are aware he's had multiple episodes, but this is different than ones he's experienced in the past,” head athletic trainer Todd Tomczyk said. “We do use it as part of our evaluation, but it's its own separate injury.”

Planet of the aches

Ivan Nova's left-knee inflammation is not severe enough to warrant a DL stint.

“The knee is strong, the knee is stable,” Tomczyk said. “We're preparing him right now for his next start.”

Stewart (hamstring) has resumed all baseball activities except full-speed running.

Mitch Keller (lower-back tightness) continues to work out, but has not resumed pitching at High-A Bradenton.

The training staff is hopeful Bradenton shortstop Cole Tucker will not need surgery after fracturing his thumb during batting practice. Tucker is wearing a split and will be re-evaluated after the swelling subsides.

Casey Sadler, who had Tommy John surgery in November 2015, was assigned to Indianapolis.

Hello from the other side

The Miami Marlins will use three former Pirates starting pitchers in this week's four-game series at PNC Park.

Edinson Volquez will pitch Thursday, Vance Worley will work Friday and Jeff Locke will go Sunday.

In his last outing, Volquez tossed a 98-pitch no-hitter against the Arizona Diamondbacks. The feat was even more impressive because Volquez tweaked his ankle making a play at first base in the first inning.

“Anybody who's connected to him from here is happy for him,” said Hurdle, who watched Volquez get the final three outs on TV. “He poured into our program here. He had to cut his teeth. It was a struggle initially, but he stayed steadfast with the plan that he and Ray (Searage) put together and it paid off huge dividends.”

In 2014, Volquez went 13-7 with a 3.04 ERA with the Pirates. Through his first nine starts that year, he was 1-4 with a 4.71 ERA. He won his final five decisions that season, then lost in the wild-card game against the San Francisco Giants.

The no-no was only the second victory this season for Volquez, who also has a 3.79 ERA. Is it good timing to face a guy in the game after he makes history?

“I never anticipate a guy throwing a no-hitter against us,” Hurdle said. “So what are the odds he does it again?”

The only pitcher to throw back-to-back no-hitters is Johnny Vander Meer, who did it June 11 and 15, 1938.

Rob Biertempfel is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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