Brandon Cumpton looks to make transition to the bullpen

Brandon Cumpton has seen a great deal of success this season as a starting pitcher. However, with the need in Pittsburgh down the stretch in relief, Cumpton appears to be making this switch.

On Sunday, Cumpton made only his seventh relief appearance of his professional career – six in the minors and one with the Pirates. In the outing, Cumpton allowed a pair of hits and struck out one, while tossing a scoreless ninth inning.

With Indianapolis for the season, Cumpton has posted a 3.03 ERA in 12 games. In 71.1 innings, he has allowed 69 hits and walked 20. Over the span, he has struck out 37. In 10 starts with the Pirates, he has a 4.98 ERA. However, the ERA is heavily inflated by a start in Los Angeles, where he allowed 11 runs, 10 earned, in 3.2 innings. Other than that, Cumpton has not allowed over four runs in any outing and boasts of seven outings with less than three runs crossing the plate.

Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington listed Mark Melancon and Tony Watson as “entrenched” in the bullpen and said Justin Wilson “has shown signs that he can be Justin Wilson again.” He also stated that Jared Hughes has thrown the ball well. However past that, they are looking for another reliable option.

“[Cumpton] just gives Clint a versatile option,” Huntington said. “A guy that can go multiple innings if we end up on the wrong side of the score early in a game. He can come in and get a ground ball, if we need to. He can pitch in mid to low leverage situations, or he can come into the middle of a game and try to keep us ahead if we have an injury or keep the deficit where it is and allow us to battle back.”

Though Cumpton is getting some work in the bullpen, Huntington acknowledges that he is not the only option, while making sure that he is prepared is paramount.

“We want to make sure that we are fair to him and put him in a situation where he can be successful,” Huntington said. “And not pitching for 10, 12, 14 days and trying to come up and throw strikes out of the bullpen at the big league level may not be in his best interests. Fortunately, we’ve got some other guys down there that we feel comfortable that they can come up here and do that if we need them to.”

Prior to the relief appearance, Cumpton had been roughed up a bit in his three previous starts. He allowed 15 earned runs on 23 hits in 16.3 innings. However, in the final of the three stars, Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor saw some signs.

“He has had his spells here, but after this last [start], I shot a message to Clint that ‘he looked like Cumpton,’” Treanor said. “I thought that his last start was very, very good…I expect that to keep going. He has done a nice job for them. That is several times over the last two years of up and back. That’s not an easy thing to go through each time.”

Cumpton credits the positive outing with some work that was done during a prior side session in between starts.

“Everything feels good,” Cumpton said. “We have made some mechanical adjustments and stuff working in the bullpen [on off days]. I feel like I carried it over into the last [start]. I am pretty happy about moving in the right direction right now.”

He thinks that this work allows him to put more emphasis on getting ahead of hitters and putting them away, a topic that he has been struggling with since coming back to Indianapolis.

“[I am working on] getting back to my strengths and sticking with them,” Cumpton said. “I am just attacking hitters and getting ahead of guys. I have been falling behind guys and giving up 0-2 hits, stuff like that. Stuff that’s not me. I am just getting back to my strengths.”

After the sideways outing in Los Angeles, Cumpton rebounded by allowing 10 runs on 29 hits in 30.1 innings before being optioned back to Indianapolis. He was pleased with all of the positive, but also took the negative in stride as well.

“It was good and I am glad that I went through all of it, even getting beat up on the west coast,” Cumpton said. “It proved to myself that I can handle a whooping and then have some nice outings after that. I am pretty happy that I was able to rebound from that and it is something to learn from to keep moving forward.”

With the arsenal that he is working with, Cumpton is also continuing to work the changeup in more. This allows him to keep hitters off-balance on the sinking fastball, which sits between 92 and 94.

“I feel like the sinker is coming back,” Cumpton said. “I am throwing a lot more changeups than I have in the last few years. It is still a pitch that I am developing, but I am pretty happy with where things are right now.”

While his possible role in the bullpen is uncertain, Cumpton seems to fit the middle and long relief role well, with his ability to get the ground ball. However, this picture is made murkier with the stock already in the Pirates bullpen, which already contains a pair of long relief options. Casey Sadler is one of those options, getting the call yesterday. Either way, Cumpton will come up after September 1st and will see time coming out of the bullpen with the Pirates, barring any injuries to the rotation.

Ryan has been following Indianapolis baseball for most of his life, and the Pirates since they became the affiliate in 2005. He began writing for Pirates Prospects in 2013, in a stint that ran through 2016 (with no service time manipulation played in). Ryan rejoined the team in 2022, covering Indianapolis once again. He has covered the Pirates in four different big league stadiums. Ryan was also fortunate enough to cover the 2015 Futures Game in Cincinnati.

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Any idea if this move is permanent or just for the rest of the season?


Anybody would be better than Sadler. He should not have been in a playoff chase game at this point in his development.


vic black???


What a mis- informed statement to make. Who do you think might be better ? Andy Oliver,Vin Mazzaro ? Guys that either can not throw a strike or every organization in baseball has passed on ? 2 weeks ago it was Frieri,before him Grilli and Morris,now we shall go after Sadler. Never mind that Locke,and Morton both recently look like long relief bullpen pitchers themselves.

Matt Beam

I’d send Sadler back to AAA and bring up Mazzaro; I would then DFA Gomez as soon as I could trade for an experienced RP


There are not many teams right now that don’t have a lot of bullpen problems, I think when Cole comes back, Locke will go to the pen, but I don’t know if he is the guy that will help this pen, you would have to think the Padres would part with someone in their pen, since all of their pen pitches seem pretty good.

Monsoon Harvard

Locke & Volquez both have a tendency to take an inning or two at the beginning of games to settle down. I think I would be more comfortable with Morton in a temporary relief role. He’s usually good for at least a few scoreless innings from the get-go before he runs into trouble.


Indeed, Morton has the best ERA among Bucs starters first time thru the lineup. Worley is 2nd best, although his WHIP is lower. Both have sub-2 ERAs. The others are all 3+.


Much as you dont wanna take out a decent starter, Volquez would be better in the pen than Locke.


I saw the LA start and the defense was atrocious. The scorer was giving hits to the Dodgers that should have been errors on the Pirates. He was probably really only responsible for 5 of the runs LA scored off of him.

Andy Prough

Yup, it was not one of our better games defensively. Fortunately, it was just one game and we won the series 3 games to 1. Which is another reason not to get hung up on small sample sizes — we outscored the Dodgers 13-7 in the other three games.


If I recall, he had a couple RISP that also scored after he left, but you are right, he probably was only responsible for about 5 runs. Have to also take into consideration they have a manager that has no idea of when a pitcher has nothing.

Matt Beam

Another reliable/experienced option would be nice. I only trust Hughes, Watson, and Melancon right now; Wilson looks great some times and lost at other times; the rest of the bullpen can’t be trusted at all


I don’t really trust Hughes starting a clean inning. I trust him implicitly in limiting damage from someone else’s mess though.


That about sums it up!


Sadler looked pretty bad yesterday.


He’s a rookie. Rookies have been known to take a while to get their feet under them.


He did look bad, even when he located well, they still killed it, he does not have a miss the bat pitch. IMO,he is not going to be even a decent pen pitcher.


He isnt a swing and miss guy. GB pitcher that pitches to contact. His track record at AAA shows a guy that can be an effective middle relief guy. Small sample size in the bigs.


And you know that how ? From that one appearance last night ? The strike out of Kinsler was an accident ? Did you not see Cabrera nearly tear the cover off the baseball after Watson replaced Sadler ? Does that mean we should not trust him either ?


Sadler looked pretty mediocre his first trip up here as well.

I’d feel better with Cumpton pitching any innings they’d give to Sadler. Or Jeanmar at this point.

I think Pimintel can still work out if he gets something resembling regular work. So Pimintel & Cumpton as swingmen going forward is fine by me.

Let Sadler compile more stats at AAA and use his as trade bait as an “MLB-ready starter”.

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