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Pirates Notebook: Bullpen Battles


Righty Chris Leroux, who is out of options, is battling for a spot in the Pirates 'pen this spring

BRADENTON, Fla. — With just a week remaining until the Pirates head north for the exhibition series in Philadelphia, and as they get ready to kick off Opening Day in 10 days, the bullpen seems to have only a few locks.

The ultimate goal when the starter is taken out of the game is to get the ball to closer Joel Hanrahan. But who exactly will be the six other men looking to keep the game on the line? Other than Hanrahan, it looks as if Jason Grilli and Chris Resop are the only two relievers with a spot in the ‘pen.


  • Right-handers: Juan Cruz (NRI), Ryota Igarashi (NRI), Jared Hughes,Chris Leroux, Brad Lincoln, Daniel McCutchen, Evan Meek
  • Left-handers: Daniel Moskos, Tony Watson

“We knew we were going to have some good competition for the bullpen,” Pirates Manager Neal Huntington said. “We have a number of good arms. Some guys that can do different things. Match up differently, give [Manager] Clint [Hurdle] different options out of the pen. Some guys have thrown well, some guys haven’t thrown as well as maybe we’ve expected. I think the intent is still to take the best seven north, find the right six in front of Joel and give him the baseball in a winning situation, keep us in games when our starter maybe doesn’t do as good as job.”

“We need some length, need some ground ball guys, need some strikeout guys, need some guys that can give multiple innings, need some guys that can pitch late with a lead, and that are going to hold it for us. We’re still working through that, but we like the group that we got and believe that not only Opening Day, but we’re going to have a number of options throughout the course of the season in case of an injury or less than desirable performance.”

The Pirates have until the day before Opening Day to finalize their roster. However, with righty Juan Cruz, who is a non-roster spring training invitee, has a clause in his contract where he must be added to the 25-man roster by March 29. Under his contract, Cruz, if reassigned to the minors, can opt out of his contract by June 19. And because of his Major League service time, Cruz will make $100,000 more if in Triple-A.

So far this spring, Cruz 33, prior to Monday night’s game, has allowed just one run on three hits over 7.0 innings. Cruz has walked one and struck out five over his seven appearances.

“It just causes the decision a little bit earlier,” Huntington said. “We got to make a decision by the 29th whether he is going to be on our club or not. Some clubs may think that $100,000 to send a guy to Triple-A for two and a half months is a good use of resources. I find it rare that we would be in that situation. It forces our decision a little bit earlier which is okay.”

Meek continues to progress this spring, but his velocity has been a concern since his injury plagued 2011 season. Meek, who was the Pirates All-Star representative in 2010, has not seen his fastball over 94 mph this spring. He has been sitting around 90-92. During 2010, Meek brought the heat, throwing a 97 mph fastball.

Meek has seen good results over his last several outings, giving up just one run over his last 7.0 innings in relief. He is still under consideration for a spot in the ‘pen, but it doesn’t seem he is a sure lock.

Leroux hasn’t had a great spring with the Pirates so far during Grapefruit League action. Over six games (6.1 innings), Leroux has allowed nine runs on nine hits and has give up two home runs. The righty has walked five and struck out 10. Leroux was solid for the Pirates last season, posting a 2.88 ERA over 23 appearances in Pittsburgh.

“I think that with the people we have in camp, we’ve got an eye on a couple guys to be long guys already,” Hurdle said. “We believe we’ve got that covered. We got a couple possibilities there. We’re making sure that all the guys in competition are getting innings and getting meaningful opportunities.”

In Leroux’s case, he is out of club options. If he doesn’t break camp with the Pirates, the team could face another team claiming him.

“That’s where we don’t want to get caught up in positive spring training performance,” Huntington said. “We also don’t want to get caught up in negative spring training performance. But there’s indicators in both, and we can’t ignore the indicators when a guy has a great spring, or a guy has a bad spring. You don’t want to bail out on a guy too quickly.”

“You can’t ignore what they do in spring, good or bad, but you can’t put too much into it and make your decision only on what they do in spring training. Chris has shown the velocity, he’s shown the breaking ball, he’s shown an improved change-up. He’s made some mistakes that have gotten hit hard. As we project into April and beyond, can we get them to make the adjustments, or are the adjustments going to play on a consistent basis that has one of the best seven for our bullpen. The options status, that certainly adds to the challenge, as does Juan Cruz’s early out date add to the challenge. But we’ve got to make the right short and long-term decision for the organization.”

“He’s not a lock. But there’s some things we’ve liked, there’s some things that we’d like to see as we go forward. We’ll try to see how that all factors in as we make that decision.”

Two lefties remain in camp this spring, but most likely only one will break with the team. Tony Watson hasn’t shown great results from a statistical standpoint — 7.71 ERA over 7.0 innings — but Watson has been working on a few new pitches this spring, and Huntington said on Sunday that they are happy with those results.

“Tony’s worked hard to continue to grow and adjust,” Huntington said. “Baseball is a game of adjustments, and he’s worked through that. The ball’s come out of his hand better recently. The breaking ball is tightening up. He’s always had the good change-up. We are pleased where Tony’s been so far. Sometimes it’s challenging to get a guy to be willing to make adjustments because they don’t want to take the step backward. Tony’s taken a big step forward as we end camp.”

Cuts on the Horizon

With just a week until Grapefruit League action ends, 34 players still remain at big league camp. Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said they will most likely have final cuts before they head north to Philly for the exhibition series.

“We’re still talking through that,” Hurdle said. “We normally really don’t take too many. We try to make most of our decisions here, that way the guys that have the hard decisions you do make, they need to feel what they need to feel. Then they got time to regroup and get ready to play. Only when you have to, you carry the extra guys.”

“Not only [Matt] Hague and [Yamaico] Navarro in the mix, [Josh] Harrison is in the mix,” Hurdle said of the utility battle. “You still got [Jake] Fox and [Nick] Evans here. Those three guys: Hague, Harrison and Navarro have all had extremely good springs. We brought them in for specific reasons for competition and we’re continuing to look at them.”

Karsten’s to Stretch Out at Pirate City

Right-hander Jeff Karstens is scheduled to pitch in a minor league game at Pirate City tomorrow. The decision to start Karstens at Pirate City instead of against the Phillies was to get the relievers more work, and build up Karstens pitch count.

“You take these opportunities where you’re going to jump their pitch counts up,” Hurdle said. “It best just to it in that kind of environment like we did with [Kevin] Correia today. They’re going to get their pitches. They’re going to get their 100 pitches. It’s not all result oriented. They can work on something’s, and then next time out they can go ahead and face competition once they get that stretched out feeling underneath them.”

Also at Pirate City tomorrow, righty A.J. Burnett is scheduled to throw a simulated game.

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