Recent acquisitions add depth, quality to Pirates bullpen
Pirates general manager Neal Huntington describes the need for pitching in the simplest of terms.
“Pitching is a matter of when, not if,” he said.
Muscle strains, elbow soreness, tight shoulders are just a few of the maladies that test the depth of a pitching staff. Do the Pirates have enough?
Pitchers, yes. Experienced pitchers, maybe not.
“When you look at the weapons, the quality of pitches, it's up there,” Huntington said when asked if this year's bullpen ranks among his deepest in 11 seasons with the Pirates. “What we don't have is experience. We don't have guys who have long backs of baseball cards. We have guys who can be, in our minds, very good major league relievers.”
Even Felipe Rivero, the closer who can throw 100-plus mph, has been in that role for only one season. He recorded 21 saves in 2017.
Rivero's eighth-inning setup man will be George Kontas, who's been in the majors since 2011, longer than any Pirates relief pitcher. He's also pitched in nine postseason games with the San Francisco Giants.
The acquisitions of left-handers Josh Smoker from the New York Mets and Kevin Siegrist from the St. Louis Cardinals — he also pitched in the postseason — could help. Siegrist has pitched in 276 games, but Smoker has only one full season and 20 games previous to that on his resume.
There might be reason for optimism with Smoker, who's only walked one batter and allowed one hit in five spring games.
Yet, he walked 32 batters in 56 1⁄3 innings with the Mets last season. He was designated for assignment and then traded to the Pirates on Jan. 31 for minor league pitcher Daniel Zamora and cash.
But Smoker can throw in the mid-90s — he struck out 68 — and if the command he has exhibited so far transitions to the regular season, the Pirates might have found a hidden gem.
“I went into camp telling myself I wasn't going to worry about any of the things I can't control,” he said. “Just go into it and be the person I am and not try to be too much and try to impress people. Throw the game I know how to throw and go after guys.”
The trades of Gerrit Cole and Andrew McCutchen brought Michael Feliz from the Houston Astros and Kyle Crick from the San Francisco Giants, but they have totaled only 2½ major league seasons between them.
The interesting and tricky decisions facing Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle are what to do with starters Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow, who are blocked from the current rotation by Joe Musgrove (more return from Cole) and holdovers Jameson Taillon, Ivan Nova, Trevor Williams and Chad Kuhl.
Brault, 25, and Glasnow, 24, could be sent to Indianapolis or come to Pittsburgh and pitch in relief. If the need for a sixth starter arises (and it will), Clayton Holmes, sent to minor league camp Monday, could return, Huntington said.
“If we carry (Brault and Glasnow) in the bullpen in April, we are going to need guys in May and June, and Clayton continues to show us he can be a major league starting pitcher,” Huntingdon said. “It's just a matter of trust, trust his weapons. He has weapons to get major league hitters out.”
Glasnow's results with the Pirates have not matched his tools or his minor league production. This spring, he has allowed 12 hits and three walks in 7 2⁄3 innings before missing a scheduled appearance Monday with flu-like symptoms.
“We wish development paths were linear. They're not,” Huntington said. “We wish they would work on our time frame. They don't. But we're still really excited about what he can do.
“Whether it's Brault or Glasnow or whoever ends up in our bullpen, it does not mean we are shifting them to a reliever. It means that's the next best step in their careers.”