The Plan of Going to the Bullpen Early Didn’t Work For the Pirates Tonight

PITTSBURGH – The Pirates had a very public plan heading into the season with their bullpen. They had a lot of relievers in the bullpen who could go multiple innings. They had a great trio of arms at the back of the bullpen in Neftali Feliz, Tony Watson, and Mark Melancon. And they had some starters who were capable of putting up decent numbers, but who might not be trustworthy the third time through the lineup.

It all set up for a situation where a starter could go five innings, hand the ball over to a fresh reliever for one or two innings, and then turn to the late inning guys.

That was the plan tonight. The execution didn’t go so well.

Ryan Vogelsong was making the spot start this evening for Francisco Liriano. Vogelsong looked great, giving up just one run on four hits in five innings, with five strikeouts and no walks. He found out that he was going to start yesterday, and was going 18 days since his last start, when he went 100 pitches. He ended up getting pulled after five innings with a 2-1 lead, throwing just 66 pitches on the night.

“It wasn’t a pitch count,” Hurdle said on the decision to pull the starter. “I felt we were best served right there, for the time that he had spent down and where he was in the game, I felt our best shot to move forward was the bullpen.”

On paper, the move looked good. The Pirates went with Arquimedes Caminero, who had given up just one run in 4.1 innings prior to tonight, with four strikeouts and one walk. All he had to do was get through one inning, and turn it over to the late inning guys. Unfortunately, the execution didn’t work out.

Caminero didn’t have control, walking two batters and loading the bases. He ended up missing on a cutter, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia crushed a grand slam to right field, putting the Tigers up 5-2.

“When you’re the manager, you make those moves, you take the responsibility for the bad ending,” Hurdle said of the call to go with his bullpen.

What really hurt was that the Pirates couldn’t solve Shane Greene, after tagging him for two runs in the first, and working his pitch count up over 30 pitches in the frame. Greene settled down, and ended up going six innings, allowing just the two runs on three hits and three walks, while striking out seven.

“He got back in the strike zone with good late movement,” Hurdle said. “He settled in and he put his foot down and stopped us.”

The Pirates got some good innings from A.J. Schugel, who was called up today to help a shortened bullpen, and ended up pitching 2.1 shutout innings, taking over for Caminero in the sixth inning.

“I thought he did a really good job,” Hurdle said. “The guy showed up at 4:00. At 9:00 he was in the game. He gave us the needed innings. The curveball was a little inconsistent, but he kept throwing it. The changeup was effective to left-handers. The slider played. I liked the way he used the fastball up tonight, and then back down.”

Schugel kept the Pirates close, and they battled back to 5-3 heading into the 9th inning. But Cory Luebke gave up two more runs in the ninth after walking three batters, and the Pirates lost the game 7-3.

Maybe the outcome would have been different if Vogelsong had pitched the sixth inning, instead of Caminero. Maybe Vogelsong gets tagged in the sixth inning, and this article is about the Pirates not going with their pre-season plan of pulling back of the rotation starters early and going with their bullpen. Either way, it didn’t work out tonight, even though it looked like a good plan on paper.

Vogelsong said he felt good at the end of his start, and was feeling good heading into the outing, trying to carry over his warmups to the game. That led to a strong first two frames where he struck out four batters total. His only damage came on a solo homer to Ian Kinsler in the fourth, but he settled down and pitched well in the fifth. He will now likely head back to the bullpen, and that changing role has been an issue for him in the past.

“For me, it’s easier to come back [to the rotation], because this is what I’m more accustomed to doing,” Vogelsong said. “It will be back to business as usual here. Go back the other way and get ready to do it out of the bullpen again. Just keep grinding.”

The Pirates wrap up their series against the Tigers tomorrow, going 1-2 in the series this week. Gerrit Cole will take the mound for the Pirates, going up against Jordan Zimmermann.

Game Notes

**Ryan Vogelsong on his age and abilities: “I’m confident in what I do, and what I can do, and what I still have left in the tank. To me, age is just a number. I know people talk about how old I am, and how long I’ve been around. I feel a lot younger than my numbers say. If you look at my track record, I don’t have the innings on my arm and body like most 38 year olds do. I’ve been in the bullpen, a long man. I was in Japan, a six man rotation for a number of years. I don’t have the same amount of innings and pitches on my arm as a regular 38-year-old. I still feel really good, and I feel like I still have a lot left in the tank.”

**The Pirates DFAd Michael Morse before the game, to make room for Schugel. Clint Hurdle said the move was about maximizing versatility, and going with Cole Figueroa on the roster instead of Morse. He also said that having Jason Rogers in Triple-A played a part in losing Morse.

**Schugel pitched well tonight, but he might not have gotten the call had Rob Scahill not been on paternity leave. Hurdle still said he was deserving, with these comments before the game: “He pitched extremely well in a number of different roles. From that standpoint, he’s got the length and the volume to give us if needed. We felt very confident in making the call his way.”

**John Holdzkom officially became a free agent today. Hurdle on Holdzkom’s struggles on the field, and his tough off-season away from the field: “There’s not a guy in the clubhouse or organization that isn’t pulling for him.”

  • The middle relief is scary, quite honestly. Caminero needs a ton of work before he should see game action again. He hasn’t been good since spring training. The 7-8-9 is fine, but the middle/long relief is bad. Consider this–even though it is small sample size and early–Luebke, Lobstein, and Caminero all have over 6 ERAs and are giving up a run for every inning that they pitch. We have NO–zero, zip, nada–depth behind them. Luebke has a 2.70 WHIP…Caminero a 2.0 WHIP…and, again, NO depth behind them. We really need/needed to keep some more relief depth. Sure, it is great to have 7-8-9 locked up but honestly when you look at this pitching staff the starters are NOT built to go beyond 5 really–Cole and Liriano are strikeout pitchers who will maybe go 6 and occasionally 7 and the rest you dont want to go beyond 5–and we better have a 3+ run lead after 5 or we do not have much of a chance.

    • Im not going to sing the praises the Cammy, but “a ton of work” seems reactionary.

      He’s inconsistent, but we knew that. He threw 3 solid outings and then has had 2 not good outings. So while he needs to figure out his usage of his stuff to avoid guys guessing FB and being able to do that each at bat, he’s not total crap.

      Bad night, reasons to look for a middle relief arm, but we arent total crap and doomed. Cole and Liriano can go 7 enough, we arent suddenly without any capable arms and no relief options.

      • I have to disagree Luke. The depth, both in the rotation and the bullpen, really is subpar and I do not trust half the pitchers on staff…do you?

        • Trust to be at least average? Yes.

          I think the team is fine, and fans tend to overreact to 2-3 bad shows in a row and get doomy and gloomy. I dont think Caminero sucks, and Hughes and Cammy are fine mid relief arms.

          Much like how i dont think Cole and Liriano suddenly cant go 7 enough based on 2 starts. 7th in IPs last year for SPs, so we eat enough innings.

  • Not trusting your starting pitcher to go one more inning is always a mistake. No questions asked. Caminero shouldn’t have been in the game unless Vogelsong was sputtering in the 6th.

    • Yeah, we always say how Hurdle pulls his guys early.

      Wait, no the constant refrain last year was how obvious it was Hurdle was a moron because he didnt get his guys out one inning before the implosion.

      Funny how no matter what, if the outcome is bad the manager is wrong.

      • I said the same stuff last year w Morton and Locke BUT our the whole topic for yesterday’s game was that the bullpen was taxed and Vogelsong needed to go AT LEAST 6. If you want to pull Vogie, do it if he’s in a jam in the MIDDLE of the inning. He was alot more efficient w his pitches than Caminero throwing his heat right over the plate to 2 straight batters!

        • Cammy also wasnt facing the 7-8-9 guys.

          Vogey got rocked just as hard as Cammy against the big hitters, so you can try to act like 2 warning track shots were good signs for Vogey but i aint buying that beackfront condo.

  • I want to add that this. “Plan” is a silly and bad process. This isnt the 2nd half 2015 pen with Blanton and his 2 fip capable of pitching multiple innings and bastardo available anymore. Caminero was your 6th option which is what he should be – not your 4th.

    Caminero for all his velocity is a pretty meh reliever. And once you get past him middle relief is dumpster fire.

    The problem isn’t execution. The problem is the plan itself.

    • Well, this really isnt the ideal plan. They didnt have any long man or Hughes tonight, so it was Caminero or bust. So rather than either use a Nicasio/Vogelsong type to bridge to the pen or bring Hughes in with 2 outs and needing a ground ball, we had to just ride Caminero.

      And Cammy+Cervelli refused to throw that slider when he got ahead. Which is dumb.

  • Our middle relief is a complete mess. This issue has been staring us in face for awhile now.

  • Not to second guess your manager but his bullpen moves are a little head scratching. RV was pitching well why not ride the horse until you see something amiss. They do have a few holes in the pen but to be sure the Tigers have some awesome fire power that we can’t compete with.

    • Well, the 7-8-9 in that order is a huge difference to the 1-6. The way he was getting loud outs in the 5th, he really wasnt rolling or pitching well. He threw some junk in the 6th and guys helped him by going outside the zone for swings.

      Would not have shocked anyone to see Vogelsong give up a few baserunners and have to face a deadly 3-4-5 in a spot where no one wants him on the mound. 1-6 guys clearly werent fooled the 2nd time seeing Vogey.

  • The Pirates really missed Hughes in this game. He could’ve been brought in to induce a ground ball after Cabrerra hit the double two batters before Salty hit the GS. Game may have ended differently if Clint had his full arsenal to work with.

  • It is a tough loss because our concerns at the start of the year have been totally unfounded – our worry about the bottom of the Rotation. In this first 9 games we have seen Nicasio, Locke, and Vogelsong pitch in 4 games. Nicasio had one excellent outing and one poor outing and he has been 1-1. Locke gave us 6 innings of one run ball, and Vogelsong gave us 5 innings of one run ball, and we have lost both of those games.

    The BP has had some problems early, but our hitting has not found a blend of consistency either. In our 5 wins we scored 4, 6, 5, 6, and 7 runs; in our 4 losses we scored 1, 1, 2, and 3 last night. I cannot see where moving ‘Cutch up in the order has done a whole lot of good, and our 2B, 3B, and SS are having their difficulties. These are all veterans and they have combined for only 2 extra base hits in just around 100 AB’s while striking out 25 times. Hard to justify if our intent was to emphasize improving OBP by teaching guys to put the ball in play, W/K etc. A SSS, but definitely moving in the wrong direction.

  • BallHeadWonder
    April 14, 2016 4:08 am

    I will be the first to tell u, I am eating my Humble Pie!! I talked a bunch of trash about Vogelsong last nite!! About how he wasn’t going to get it done for us against that Tiger lineup and he did a very nice job!! So I stand corrected!! Clint made the right move with Caminero. I just feel he needs change speeds a lot more often, because they were sitting on his fastball.

  • It didn’t work out the way any of us hoped, but I still think going to Caminero for the 6th was absolutely the right move.

    With only a two run deficit going into the 9th, I would have rather seen Nefti or Tony, instead of AJ coming back out to start the inning.

    • piraterican21
      April 14, 2016 8:43 am

      The pitch selection was confusing to me, the splitter was getting hit hard and yet Cervelli kept calling it over the slider.