PITTSBURGH — Left-handed relief pitcher Phil Coke has joined the team after being acquired from the New York Yankees earlier this week.
Coke, 34, spent most of his 2016 season with the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate in Scranton, Pa., and had just returned from winning the Triple-A National Championship when he got the phone call from Yankees GM Brian Cashman that the Pirates were interesting in trading for him.
“I said, ‘That’s not that far away. I’m in. I’ll be there whenever they want me,’” Coke recalled. “I couldn’t ask for a better situation. I like the opportunity to step into a tough situation and hopefully improve it. I enjoy the challenge. It sounds like fun. Looking around the clubhouse, there’s a lot of really good ballplayers in here.”
Coke said he’s ready to pitch in any situation, but it seems that the Pirates are mostly looking at him as a relief option.
“[He’s] a guy that’s ready to pitch,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “He just finished pitching. He’s pitched multiple innings. He’s had a couple starts in the last 10 days. He also pitched out of the bullpen. [He’s a] 34-year-old grown man with bullpen experience. We’ve had volume out there for a while, but we didn’t have availability. … That’s why we brought him in — multiple innings out of the bullpen or a situational left-hander.”
Coke has a career .653 OPS against when facing left-handers, compared to a .830 mark against right-handers. While the Pirates have a plethora of left-handed options in the bullpen, they don’t have a traditional LOOGY, with Felipe Rivero and Tony Watson holding down late-inning roles and Antonio Bastardo with a reverse platoon split over the course of his career.
To make room for Coke on the 40-man roster, the Pirates put right-handed relief pitcher A.J. Schugel on the 60-day disabled list. He’s been dealing with a shoulder injury and hasn’t pitched since Aug. 30.
MELANCON MAKES RETURN
Former Pirates closer Mark Melancon returned to PNC Park for the first time since he was traded for Felipe Rivero at the trade deadline. Hurdle said he was looking forward to catching up with Melancon and seeing how his summer went, but would prefer if he didn’t see him on the mound.
“I’m looking forward to not seeing him pitch,” Hurdle said. “That’ll play our best, if we don’t see him.”
Melancon said he’s stayed in the contact with several of his former teammates and called it “awfully weird” to be back in Pittsburgh in the visitor’s clubhouse.
“The move has been great. Jumping into first place has been nice,” he said. “I have great memories here. I’m going to get to see the guys here in a minute. It’s a little different.”
COUNTING MAGIC NUMBERS
The Nationals’ magic number to clinch the National League East Division is just two, meaning they can do so with a win and a New York Mets loss tonight. Melancon called it “kind of ironic” that he could clinch a division win at PNC Park this season, but Hurdle downplayed the significance of it to his team, other than that it would mean they’d dropped another must-win game.
“I’m pretty much ambivalent to it,” he said. “I’ve been on both sides of it. We need to play a good ballgame. Our last two homesteads haven’t been what we wanted them to be. I’m just focused on getting our team to go out and play a competitive ballgame here tonight. … I do know that when it does happen, it leaves a sour taste in your mouth.”