Tim Benz: Pirates bullpen shows encouraging signs vs. Marlins | TribLIVE.com
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Tim Benz

I don’t want to get too crazy. Simply file this one under “credit when it’s due.”

But let’s give a mild golf clap to the Pirates bullpen for helping to win the series in Miami over the weekend.

Boy, it’s amazing how much facing the Marlins’ bats can help, right? Even the Pirates’ bullpen, with the second-worst ERA in the National League at 5.24, got a little bit better against the Marlins.

Keep in mind as you read some of these numbers that, at the start of play Sunday, the Marlins were the worst team in baseball when it came to OPS, slugging, runs scored, home runs and total bases.

But, for the first time in a while, Clint Hurdle and Ray Searage probably had to feel pretty good about how their bullpen performed over the course of a series.

In Game 1 Friday, the bullpen efficiently cruised through an 11-0 blowout, so as not to extend a game and tax itself on a night where the hitters did plenty to put matters to bed early.

The contest was 5-0 when Steven Brault was lifted after six innings. The group of three relievers held it up from their end and let the offense extend the lead without being stressed.

Michael Feliz, Clay Holmes and Rich Rodriguez combined for three innings of one-hit, one-walk, shutout ball.

The only bumpy spot the entire weekend came on Saturday, when Geoff Hartleib allowed three hits and a run in relief of Dario Agrazal. So he was tagged with the loss as the Marlins won 4-3.

However, notable on that night was the pitching of Francisco Liriano. The veteran lefty allowed two runners, but no runs, finishing out the game. He’s now had two fairly clean performances after a rough stretch to start June.

Then on Sunday, entering the game down 4-2 after Chris Archer left with just five innings to his credit, the bullpen did its nicest job of the weekend.

Rodriguez, Kyle Crick and Felipe Vazquez were scoreless over four innings, allowing only two hits and one walk combined. Holding the Marlins at bay over those final four frames gave the Pirates’ bats just enough time to catch up and win the game 5-4.

That was just the second save for Vazquez since May 27. He now has 16.

The outings were particularly encouraging for Crick and Rodriguez. Crick had a loss and was tagged with two blown saves over his previous three outings. And Rodriguez has been a pinata all season.

Don’t look now. The right-hander hasn’t been charged with a run since the start of June. His ERA, which was once 6.45, is down to 4.91.

Baby steps.

Not just for Rodriguez, but for the bullpen collectively. It was just one series. And it was against the Marlins. But the Pirates will take any sign of progress from that unit in 2019.

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