First Pitch: The Pirates Need to Adjust How Frieri and Pimentel are Used

The Pittsburgh Pirates have a problem with their bullpen. The problem isn’t a lack of talent in the bullpen. Tony Watson has been one of the best relievers in baseball this year, and Mark Melancon isn’t far behind him. Those two give the Pirates a great combo in the late innings. Jared Hughes has stepped up to have an impressive year. While he’s not as good as his ERA, his xFIP of 3.76 currently ranks third on the team. Justin Wilson has struggled this year, but showed tonight why he’s such a dangerous left-hander. Jeanmar Gomez hasn’t been bad, with a 3.45 ERA / 4.01 xFIP. That combo lines up with his 2013 numbers.

The problem the Pirates have is the combo of Stolmy Pimentel and Ernesto Frieri.

I like both of these guys, and I like that the Pirates are giving them both a shot in the majors. Pimentel is out of options, which means they’d have to designate him for assignment if he wasn’t in the majors. When he’s on, he has an upper 90s fastball and a plus slider. The Pirates added Frieri for Jason Grilli, after Frieri struggled with the Angels. He’s got a great arm, and the advanced metrics showed that he would be a bounce back candidate.

The problem with both pitchers has been their usage.

I like Frieri as a bounce back candidate. His biggest issue with the Angels was an unlucky HR/FB ratio. He’s not only carried that over to the Pirates, but has struggled with walks in his limited innings. It’s not a problem that the Pirates are giving him a shot to turn things around. The problem is that they’re using him in important innings. He came in on July 3rd in the ninth inning, with the Pirates down by one run, and gave up five runs while recording just one out. His next outing was on July 8th in the bottom of the ninth, when he gave up a walk off shot. Tonight he started his outing in the bottom of the tenth inning, and was quickly pulled after walking the first two batters he faced. Had it not been for Gregory Polanco’s great throw/Russell Martin’s great catch, plus the added effort from Justin Wilson, Frieri would be looking at another loss.

As for Pimentel, I like the upside of his arm. I think he could be a starting candidate for the Pirates in the future, or a late inning relief option. But for some reason, the Pirates won’t use him. He’s had five appearances in a little over a month since coming off the disabled list. The first game was when the Pirates were ahead by six runs. The next outing was when they were down by five runs. He threw 4.1 innings with one run allowed. He waited ten days until the next outing. The Pirates were down by three runs and he threw four shutout innings. Despite this outing, it was another week until Pimentel threw (which was probably due to the four innings this time), and the Pirates were ahead by five runs when he came in. His last outing came five days later, and when the Pirates were down by three runs in the bottom of the eighth inning.

The Pirates need to switch these situations. Frieri needs to be throwing in the meaningless innings while he fixes whatever problem is leading to his down year. Pimentel needs to be used like a normal reliever.

There’s no reason why Pimentel should be used like a Rule 5 pick. There’s nothing to save him for. Eventually the Pirates need to make a decision on him. He’s out of options, which means they’re always going to be in a situation where he needs to be in the majors, or needs to be designated for assignment. They can keep him as the mop up guy, but relegating someone with his stuff to that role would be disappointing. They need to see what he can actually do. I’m not saying that Pimentel should be pitching in the late innings. I’m just saying he should be pitching more than once a week.

The Pirates basically have a shortened bullpen due to their usage of Frieri and Pimentel. They’ve got one guy they never use, and one guy they shouldn’t use in later innings. If they flipped the roles, then Frieri could go to the mop up role, and Pimentel could get middle inning work. The numbers for Pimentel haven’t been great this year, but it’s hard to put up good numbers when you’re hardly even on a schedule to pitch. The Pirates could see what they’ve got with Pimentel, and make an actual decision on him. They could limit Frieri to non-important innings, giving him a low pressure situation to turn things around. Or they could just use them both like normal relievers, and not have one specific reliever who only pitches when the team is up or down by three or more runs.

Right now the Pirates have a five man bullpen, plus one reliever who never pitches and one who shouldn’t be pitching most of the innings he does pitch. They’ve got dominant relievers in the late innings. They’ve got electric arms in the middle innings. But it’s hard to have a successful bullpen when you’re wasting two of the seven available spots.

Links and Notes

**Prospect Watch: Big Games From Keon Broxton and Nick Buckner on a Day Filled With Strong Pitching

**Pirates Sign Left-Handed Pitcher Rafael Perez to Minor League Deal

**Prospect Highlights: Alen Hanson Homer, Double From Sam Kennelly

**Pirates Hoping to Fix the Control of a Hard Throwing Right-Handed Relief Prospect

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

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Ralphie Stefano

Something else to blame Hurdle for this year.

John Lease

The reason Stolmy hasn’t pitched is because he’s hardly had any good outings. They need to cut ties with him and bring up Vin Mazzaro. I doubt anyone will claim him, but if they do, so be it. Frieri should never pitch in any kind of pressure situation, but Clint keeps on running him out there. He’s gotten hit hard all the time. Those aren’t ‘unlucky’ homers, they are bombs. He’s worth taking some more chances on, but not too many more. Someone needs to knock him over in the shower so he can go on the DL.

John Lease

And yet another fail from Stolmy.


Tim, I’ve watched each of Frieri’s appearances with the Bucs, and I don’t know how you can say he’s been “unlucky” with home runs or his ERA (I’m guessing what we’ve seen with the Bucs is the level of pitching he’s been producing the past 2 months with the Angels). I’d actually say he’s lucky that a couple of those warning track shots haven’t left the yard. He is giving up tons of loud contact and throwing almost all fastballs up in the zone…either over the plate and they’re getting hammered or he’s wild like last night and walking people. These hitters are sitting on his fastball and he’s not fooling anyone.

Frieri has a WHIP of 2.75 with the Bucs and 1.51 for the year. He should be placed on waivers immediately, and he will obviously clear with his $3.8 million salary and he can be out-righted to Indy. It makes way more sense to have him work out his huge problems in AAA and not during a pennant race where we can’t afford to pitch him in tight games or waste a spot for mop up when our bullpen is a huge weakness that needs more effective pitchers. They should call up Mazzarro in his place who may not be great, but he’s at least a slightly above average reliever who will keep us in games and can pitch multiple innings. Mazarro can hold down the fort until we can trade for someone better or use his spot for Worley if he gets shipped to the pen when Cole returns.


I’ve also been a bit confused by the “unlucky” claim. It seems to me like he’s throwing a very hittable ball and it’s getting routinely crushed.


I also didn’t quite understand that Hurdle has refused to use Melancon in the ninth inning of tie games,yet put him out there last night in a game they were one run down in the eighth inning Is it just me,or did anyone else find that strange ? Also,if that game were one or two games after the ASG,I could have understood not running Worley out there much as leadoff commented earlier. But,with only one game before the ASG,why not let him follow Hughes ?

Ian Rothermund

I definitely agree with your views here. I always see the higher upside in a pitcher’s ability to start. However, if Pimentel is not an option for the rotation at any point this year, then I’d really prefer to see him in shorter bursts, see how that fastball plays up. The Pirates are really getting no value by having two long relief positions on this team, especially while the rotation has been doing well the last month or two.


Hurdle and Huntington have never seen eye to eye on young bullpen guys. Huntington will give him guys like Pimentel this year or Justin Wilson in 2012 or Duke Welker last season and Hurdle just flat out won’t use them. Almost seems like it’s out of spite. Then you get guys who just are struggling like Frieri, Chad Qualls a few years ago etc and Hurdle trots them out there in extreme high leverage situations to fail.


I agree totally. I think Hurdle has his roles set and these guys don’t conform to them, therefore they don’t pitch. He has his ideal situation in the pen and he wants to keep it that way. Gomez (before the 7th and after the 9th), Wilson (7th), Watson (8th) and Melancon (close), No room for anyone else. If Wilson gets in trouble, bring in Hughes, if Watson gets in trouble, just lose, if Melancon gets in trouble just lose. If they get to extra innings maybe those other guys will get a chance. If I am managing against Hurdle I know exactly what he wants to do and probably will do.


Also Hurdle isn’t the only guy managing like this. Roenicke absolutely abused Will Smith and K-Rod the first 90 games and now they’re faltering. Zack Duke is also looking at a 75+ appearance season. Doubt he handles it.


Dukes appearances were for one hitter, then Roenicke started stretching him out to at least an inning, if he would have kept him at one hitter like the Giants or the Cards do, Duke would be a very affective weapon for the Brewers.


And then you get guys like Watson Melancon, Grilli making too many appearances and they either get hurt or aren’t as effective as the season goes on.

Very few guys have made good back to back seasons without getting hurt or significantly losing effectiveness in Hurdle’s bullpen.


Something that I believe. I like the idea of the specialty left hander in the pen, I realize that he would change Hurdles philosophy somewhat when it comes to roles. For some reason the Pirates refuse to get a pitcher like this, this type of pitcher comes cheap and can be very affective, sure beats having a pitcher buried in your pen that you never use. The Pirates are stubborn and want their pen pitchers to go one or more innings. The Cards and Giants use this type of pitcher very well.


This “philosophy”, I believe, comes from Huntington, who has said he looks for relievers who can pitch to both sides and does not want to waste roster space on relief specialists with severe splits.


Yet they waste those roster spots with position players.


I agree with you that they are doing it Huntington’s way, but Hurdle does what he wants to, Huntington has said many times that he does not tell Hurdle how to manage. Hurdle has enough clout by now that if he wanted a specialty left hander he could get one. It does appear that Hurdle has bought into Huntington’s philosophy.


Hurdle absolutely does whatever he wants and I think one reason there is no lefty specialist is because NH knows Hurdle will pitch him against righties too and defeat the purpose of having him.

This week I think they need to have a long discussion regarding the bullpen usage to get on the same page. A decision regarding Pimentel needs to be made. Hurdle either has to give him an increased capacity or Pimentel needs DFA’d. If he doesn’t like that Stolmy is inexperienced then he needs to release him because he’ll never have the opportunity to turn into a “veteran” that Hurdle loves so much.


IMO, Pimentel is better suited as a starter, it absolutely blows my mind that they have this guy and don’t use him, when they could fill that spot with a guy they could use to actually save a game. Sometimes philosophies have to be adjusted, if I were Coonelly, I would step in and get these two on the same page.


Worley is also in the Pen! What is his role? When is he going to pitch?
IMO, upside players are nice to work with when you are going nowhere, but when you are fighting for a pennant, tryouts should not be taking place, you either do the job or you get someone that can do the job. You can’t hold on to everyone. IMO, Hurdle has his philosophy’s and they are different than most managers today. Most managers manage the late innings batter to batter, Hurdle manages the late innings with his pitchers as role players, inning by inning, each one has his inning and it takes losing a lead most of the time for him to relieve one of his role players. Also I don’t know if anyone noticed but the Pirates only have/use one pitcher to come in with a jam situation and that is Hughes. I can’t believe they do not have another pen pitcher that they can bring in to stop runners in scoring position. They tried Morris and he not only left everyone on base score, but he would let one or two of his own score.


My thought about Worley is that he was being held in reserve in case FL bombs early today.


and he did……and he was used. good call


Hurdle motivates the team and they seem to always bounce back which I give him credit for. But… his bullpen management is archaic.

They’ll never fire him now that he has made the playoffs but IMO he shouldn’t be an MLB manager.


I think he should be a MLB manager, just not with the Pirates, probably do a good job with the Cubs. I think he was a stop in the road manager, he is a motivator and the Pirates have matured to the point where they don’t need a motivator as much as they need a tactician. This team IMO could win the pennant with an upper tier manager.


It seems as if they are using Frieri in these situations as if to say we made a good trade, see! I think it is blowing up in their face if that is the reason. I’m really annoyed by Hurdle’s inflexibility with the bullpen and his clean inning theory. That is simply his pet peeve and doesn’t seem to have great results. Tony LaRussa and Mike Matheny may seem annoying with their three pitcher an inning moves but I think the Cardinals record speaks for itself in the the period they have been coaching.


Maybe Frieri should stop chewing gum.

Funny you brought up Stolmy being used like a Rule 5 pick as earlier in week I mentioned on another board Frieri should be used like a Rule 5 pick. Right now Frieri is doing worse than the famed Donnie Veal Experiment. Wasn’t even near the plate last night.

I’ve been critical of Hurdle pulling starters too soon, but last night Morton shouldn’t have pitched to Frazier. Todd had already hit Chuck hard twice and it was obvious at that point that Chuck has lost feel for his pitches and was missing his spots. Normally I’d like to give Chuck every opportunity to work out of his jams, but not in this situation. I do feel bad Chuck was lifted for a PH last game due to bases loaded opportunity as he looked in line for a CG that day. Not tonight though.


If you take a look at Brooks Baseball you will see Morton actually should have had him struck out the pitch before the HR. Till umpires basically get a consistent strike zone as a group, players are at a distinct problem.

R Edwards

“The Pirates Need to Adjust How Frieri and Pimentel are Used”

I have a better idea, why don’t the Pirates do what most teams would have done by now – release Frieri and callup Mazzaro? Its actually unbelievable that Hurdle put Frieri in the 10th inning of last night’s game. If not for Polanco, Hurdle would be getting killed in the media this morning – and rightfully so.

I will give Gomez some credit – he did close it out in the bottom of the 10th. I wouldn’t want him closing too many more games, but he got it done last night.

McCutchen – What more can you say about this guy? He is absolutely on fire right now – and has been for 2-3 weeks now.

Morton – Looked like Cy Young for 5 innings, then just completely fell apart in one inning.


Tim- you keep saying that, but who cares? The reason he is there (AAA) is because he doesn’t have options and another team doesn’t want to pay 1 million for a middle reliever. That has no bearing on whether or not he is more capable of getting major league batters out in the middle of this year’s pennant race. If you think either Pimentel or Frieri is more likely to get batters out right now, then it might be time for you take a vacation. We have plenty of players at AAA who are more likely to be useful right now then those too, but we don’t want to lose control for nothing. I don’t blame them, but you can’t have 2 relievers on your team you can’t use. You gotta get rid of one of them

R Edwards

I understand that Tim, which seems very odd considering his performance last year and his relatively low cost. When I look at what some teams have in their bullpens, I find that very surprising.

Regardless he is much more competent than Frieri is right now.


It’s hard to believe it’s his ability to pitch because overall he did a good job. But to clear waivers twice for a low paid middle inning reliever is strange indeed.


I think Frieri’s shoulder “feels tired” and he needs to go on the 15-day DL and then have some rehab work in Indy!


Sometimes I wonder if the coaches realize that while they are tinkering away on their latest project that the games actually count. I’ m pretty sure they do,still it makes you wonder.


Great Article Tim. I couldn’t agree more and I love the fact you speak to the Rule 5 feeling. The Pirates are handling Stolmy almost the same way the Brewers have handled Wang this year. The fact is they may need this guy next year to complete and win a spot in the rotation. I didn’t see him pitch his last outing, but the one against the Mets shows you the potential and it also looked, in that outing, as though he added a split finger to his arsenal. The grip and movement was of similar to a split finger. It was looking like Tanaka’s that day.


With Frieiri, we have a much bigger problem, Hurdle needs to quit trotting him out there. He is awful. He will get better, but we can’t deal with that right now. Sit his ass on the bench until further notice, use him sparingly, or waive him- and i know you like Pimentel Tim, but his high 90’s days are over, and the work he did to help get over his control problems, has all seemed to unravel. You can see why we won’t put him out there. There needs to be a trade to deal Pimentel so Worley can take the long reliever role, allowing us to use Gomez and Hughes and Wilson as our close game pitchers. And I don’t know what Hurdle’s issue is with getting pitchers warmed up, but he always waits too long to get someone up in the pen. If you put Frieri in, in a tie or close game (and he is only going to pitch one inning anyways) you need to start warming up the pitcher immediately in case he is off. I’ve counted over 30 times he waits too long. JUST GET THE PITCHER READY SO YOU HAVE AN OPTION IF YOUR PITCHER CAN’T THROW A STRIKE (or gets hammered)

S Brooks

If the plan is to keep Frieri as a project, to see if he can help down the stretch, or for ’15 – and NH’s statements when he was acquired would lend credence to that notion – then this absolutely makes sense.

I just wonder what happens when Cole gets off the DL. Barring injury (or “injury”), someone’s losing his spot, almost certainly someone in the pen – Frieri, Stolmy, Wilson or Hughes. Sending Hughes down makes the pen weaker, and as sparingly as he’s been used, I don’t believe that NH would let Stolmy go for nothing. That leaves JW and Ernie.

So maybe Ernie’s pitching for a job, and maybe NH/CH want to get him as many appearances as they can in the time available, to see if the work he’s putting in with Searage on FB location, changeup & arm slot is working? If not, it just seems odd to me that they’ve been trotting him out in high leverage situations, knowing that he’s very much a work in progress.


I was literally thinking the same thing tonight about Frieri and Pimentel switching roles.

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