The Pittsburgh Pirates have had some bullpen issues this year, but they are still right in the middle of a playoff chase. One of the teams they are chasing is the San Francisco Giants, who hold the first Wild Card spot. The Giants recently called up two pitchers to reinforce their bullpen and both of them can hit triple digits on the radar gun. They are also both former Pittsburgh Pirates minor league players.
On September 1st against the Rockies, the Giants were trailing 9-7 going into the bottom of the 8th inning. They called on a 25-year-old, 6’4″ right-hander out of the pen to make his Major League debut. Hunter Strickland fired a scoreless eighth inning and the Giants ended up tying the game in the top of the ninth. Strickland came over to the Pirates from the Boston Red Sox in the Adam LaRoche deal. That day, he followed two other former Pirates out of the Giants bullpen, Jean Machi and Javier Lopez.
Two days later, another Pirates reunion took place on the mound, as 28-year-old Erik Cordier made his Major League debut in the seventh inning of a start by Ryan Vogelsong. Cordier was then followed by Strickland’s second appearance. Cordier is also a 6’4″ righty and just like Strickland two days prior, he made quite an impression in his debut.
When Hunter Strickland was with the Pirates, there were reports that he hit 94 MPH as a starter, but there were never reports of him reaching rare air with his fastball. Cordier on the other hand, hit 100 MPH while with Indianapolis last year, he just didn’t have the best results. Strickland missed a lot of time in his young career with shoulder and elbow surgery, while Cordier has spent nine seasons bouncing around the minors, first as a starter, then as a reliever.
This year in the hitting-friendly Pacific Coast League, Cordier had a 3.59 ERA in 52.2 innings, allowing just 40 hits, with 68 strikeouts. Strickland pitched briefly in High-A ball before moving to AA, where he had a 2.02 ERA and 48 strikeouts in 35.2 innings. He was used as a closer for awhile, picking up 11 saves.
When both of these big righties took the mound last Wednesday, Cordier threw his first pitch at 100 MPH and 20 fastballs later, he had touched triple digits another 15 times. He hit 101 on the gun seven times. Strickland followed him by only hitting 99 MPH, though he hit 100 in his debut two days earlier. There was talk already that Strickland could be considered for the Giants closer role down the line because the team was so impressed with how he has progressed in such a short time.
These two players obviously were not seen as big losses at the time they left the Pirates. Strickland had trouble staying on the field during his time in the system. The Pirates saw enough in him at one point to add him to the 40-man roster, though they weren’t able to sneak him through waivers just prior to Opening Day last year. Cordier pitched a long time in the minors with marginal results and he left via minor league free agency, though the Giants added him to the 40-man roster after signing him last November.
It would be nice to have two options in the bullpen this year throwing 100 MPH and it would be even better if the team you were chasing didn’t have them in their pen. So far, going into Wednesday night, they had combined for just four shutout innings, which isn’t enough of a sample size to pass judgement. They may end up being valuable bullpen arms, or they might just eat some innings and not see any playoff time. Still, it would be a nice option for Clint Hurdle to have in September. If things somehow stay the same, it might be the Pirates facing one or both of these pitchers late in a crucial all-or-nothing Wild Card game.
Pirates Game Graph
Pittsburgh: The Pirates are 3.5 games behind St. Louis for the NL Central lead and 1.5 games ahead of both Atlanta and Milwaukee for the second Wild Card spot. They are four games behind San Francisco for the first Wild Card spot.
Today’s Starter and Notes: The Pirates won 6-3 on Wednesday night and they finish up a four-game series with the Phillies today. Francisco Liriano will make his 26th start of the season tonight. He has not faced the Phillies yet this season. Liriano threw six shutout innings in his last start, striking out nine batters while allowing three hits and two walks. On the road this season, he has a 2.67 ERA in 11 starts. That’s much better than his 4.58 ERA in 14 home starts. The minor league season is over. You can read the DSL season recap here complete with scouting reports for each player and the top ten players to watch list can be found here. We will post other season recaps soon.
MLB: Pittsburgh (76-69) @ Philadelphia (67-78) 7:05 PM
Probable starter: Francisco Liriano (3.74 ERA, 149:65 K/BB, 137.1 IP)
AAA: Indianapolis (73-71)
AA: Altoona (61-81)
High-A: Bradenton (78-61)
Low-A: West Virginia (54-81)
Short-Season A: Jamestown (35-40)
RK: Bristol (22-46)
GCL: Pirates (20-40)
DSL: Pirates (34-36)
With the minor league season over, it’s time to take a look back at some recent video from the GCL, which we will continue to do over the next few days. All videos are courtesy of the GCL Pirates fan page. Below is a video of catcher Yoel Gonzalez, who was the youngest player on the GCL Pirates this year. Gonzalez has shown better defense than offense early in his career, though he showed slight improvements with the bat moving up from the DSL this year. He had a .523 OPS last season and a .220/.285/.287 slash line this year in 40 games.
9/8: Pirates release Ernesto Frieri.
9/7: Michael Martinez and Chris McGuiness clear waivers and were outrighted to Indianapolis.
9/2: Pirates recall Gregory Polanco, Jeff Locke, John Holdzkom, Casey Sadler and Bobby LaFromboise.
9/2: Chase d’Arnaud added to 40-man roster and promoted to Pittsburgh. Michael Martinez designated for assignment.
9/1: Pirates recall Gerrit Cole and Tony Sanchez. Stolmy Pimentel activated from the disabled list
9/1: Pirates designate Chris McGuiness for assignment. John Holdzkom added to 40-man roster.
This Date in Pirates History
Six former Pittsburgh Pirates players have been born on this date, including three that played for playoff teams, two were with World Series winners and another player whose big league career lasted just one relief appearance.
We have catcher Don Slaught, who played for the three straight pennant winning clubs in the early 1990’s. Slaught played six seasons in Pittsburgh and hit .305 in 475 games.
Dave Roberts was a relief pitcher for the 1979 World Series winners, but he wasn’t around at the start of the season. However, he played a big role for the team as part of the trade that brought Bill Madlock to the Pirates. Roberts had a 3.26 ERA in 21 appearances that season.
Jackie Hernandez was the shortstop for the 1971 champs. He played 214 games during his three seasons with the Pirates and started ten of the 11 playoff games in 1971.
You can read mini bios of all three players mentioned above, plus three others, in the link here. Also included is a game recap from the 1982 season in which the Pirates got a walk-off homer to beat the Phillies.
John started working at Pirates Prospects in 2009, but his connection to the Pittsburgh Pirates started exactly 100 years earlier when Dots Miller debuted for the 1909 World Series champions. John was born in Kearny, NJ, two blocks from the house where Dots Miller grew up. From that hometown hero connection came a love of Pirates history, as well as the sport of baseball.
When he didn't make it as a lefty pitcher with an 80+ MPH fastball and a slider that needed work, John turned to covering the game, eventually focusing in on the prospects side, where his interest was pushed by the big league team being below .500 for so long. John has covered the minors in some form since the 2002 season, and leads the draft and international coverage on Pirates Prospects. He writes daily on Pittsburgh Baseball History, when he's not covering the entire system daily throughout the entire year on Pirates Prospects.