Pirates Notebook: The Battle For the Final Bullpen Spots

CLEARWATER, Fla. — The Pirates threw four pitchers that all had a chance to factor into the discussion for one of the team’s open bullpen spots on Sunday.

I say had because very quickly into the game, Josh Lindblom put a pretty serious dent in his chances by giving up five runs and eight hits in 1.2 innings. Lindblom was off with his command from the very start and when he was hit, he was hit hard. He gave up four extra base hits including two home runs in the first inning and walked the bases loaded with two outs in the second before manager Clint Hurdle had finally seen enough.

“He wasn’t getting balls where he wanted to,” Hurdle said. “It was just a rough day for him as far as execution and sharpness. It just didn’t work out well.”

Lindblom is the last of the non-roster invitees hanging on in the bullpen, so Sunday’s result very well could be the end of the road for him. He was picked up by Wade LeBlanc, who stranded all three inherited runners and went on to pitch 3.1 scoreless innings while giving up just three hits. The Phillies kept most of their lineup — which featured five regular starters — in the game through LeBlanc’s appearance, so it made for an easy comparison. Hurdle thinks LeBlanc, who has a 3.86 ERA this spring, can be even better as the season goes on.

“I actually think that Wade’s a guy that the stuff is going to play better as the season goes on and hitters get more fine-tuned, because he’s going to play off [their] adrenaline, he plays off speeding them up and slowing them down,” he said. “He’s still done a good job for us. He’s got experience. He’s got a slow heartbeat. He can pitch in a variety of roles. … The versatility is definitely something that’s attractive to us.”

Not having a set role is nothing new to LeBlanc. For a guy that’s pitched on eight teams in the last three seasons, just coming back to Pittsburgh after a 12-inning audition at the end of last season has provided a modicum of stability.

“Man, this is my ninth big-league camp, I think and I haven’t known what role I’m going to have at any of them,” LeBlanc said. “You get used to it after a while.”

LeBlanc was followed by Jared Hughes and A.J. Schugel, who also tossed scoreless outings. Hurdle said that Schugel, even though he hasn’t has had as impressive of a spring as LeBlanc, is still a strong contender because of the body of work he put in last season, with 52 innings pitched and a 1.038 WHIP.

“He gave us added innings a whole bunch of times when some of the other guys out there weren’t playing as well. We went through an early period where our middle relief was struggling. He came in and actually provided a stable hand on it.


Hughes’ spring got off to a disastrous start. At one point his ERA was 108. But he’s settled into something more approaching his normal self and has allowed two earned runs in his last four appearances, and even those were a bit specious as the Pirates defense kicked the ball around a good bit behind him Fort Myers last week.

“I think my timing is getting there and it’s getting close to where I need to be for the season,” Hughes said. “The ball is on the ground a lot. It’s what I’m looking for, for the sinker to put the ball on the ground. That’s why I’m here.”


One of the other factors in the bullpen is the decision the Pirates must make on Rule 5 draftee Tyler Webb. The 26-year-old lefty has to be offered back to the New York Yankees if he doesn’t make the team and that could potentially affect other plans. Hughes and Schugel have options remaining while LeBlanc does not.

“[Webb is] also in that mix,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “We like what we’ve seen. It’s a versatile left-hander. Doesn’t show a ton of weapons but doesn’t get a lot of hard contact allowed. Gets a lot of awkward swings. We’re working through that process – will he be one of the 12 that we carry, or do we have to go through the process and offer him back to New York? We’re still working through that.”

Webb will follow Ivan Nova and Felipe Rivero at LECOM Park Monday night when the Pirates host the Minnesota Twins. Chad Kuhl is expected to throw 100 pitches at Pirate City. He’ll be joined there by Antonio Bastardo.


Josh Bell faced switch pitcher Pat Venditte in the fourth inning. Venditte came into the game to relieve Philadelphia starter Clay Buchholz and warmed up pitching both right- and left-handed. Bell had his left-handed batting helmet on in order to prepare for the right-handed Buchholz. Then he and Venditte played a bit of a cat and mouse game.

Venditte kept his glove on his right hand, implying that he intended to pitch lefty. Bell stood in the right-handed batter’s box, but was wearing his left-handed batting helmet. Then he went back to get his right-handed helmet. On Bell’s way back to the box, Venditte announced his intention to pitch right-handed, forcing Bell to once again go back to get his left-handed helmet. Bell said that he’s seen Venditte before and that the mind games he can play are nothing new.

“I’ve seen it before, because he did it with Antoan Richardson last year,” Bell said. “It’s just another at-bat. It’s cool that he can do that.”

Hurdle said that he actually preferred that Bell hit left-handed, citing his better numbers as lefty. Bell had a .820 OPS as a left-handed hitter in 2016, compared to a .515 mark from the right side. Though the Pirates got the matchup they were looking for, Venditte ended up being the victor, getting Bell to ground into a double play. Maybe the mind games worked, after all.

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So how many spots are open in the bullpen? going with 12 pitchers, so 7 relievers. Rivera, Bastardo, Watson, Hughes, schugel, Webb, Brault, Hutch?


I’ll disclose I’m A huge fan/optimist when it comes to our management team… but I’m concerned about our pitching depth. Really would have liked to see one more 4/5 spot signing. Hoping 1 guy out of 3 or 4 mediocre pitchers “grabs a spot” just isn’t cutting it. Would have liked to see a solid rotation with 3 or 4 guys battling and pushing the existing 4/5 starters, not fighting for an open spot. This has bullpen implications as well. Also concerned about infield depth with Kang gone. No true impact players (other than possibly Bell).

John W

Infield depth scares me much more than pitching depth this year.


Maybe semantics, but I think infield *quality* is more of a concern than quantity.

Without Kang the Pirates don’t have a single infielder projected to provide average (2 WAR) value. They also don’t project to have any replacement-level positions, which is good, but this obviously leaves very little upside and a whole lot of risk.

John W

Oh yes absolutely. Of the starting 4 who really has upside to their projection besides Bell? And quite frankly given his likely defense, not a whole lot has to go wrong with Bell’s bat for him to be barely replacement.

dr dng

It does not scare me, but we are not going to have one of
them hit 24 HR. (or maybe I don’t scare easy).

dr dng

Of course as of now, its probably unlikely that we have
any player hit 24 HR.


The trade for Quintana needed to happen.

Joe Nastasi

There’s a reason Washington didn’t give in to Pittsburgh & include Robles in the Cutch talks. Same as Bucco’s refusing to include Meadows for Q, if you believe you have a stud, don’t give him up.


If Quintana could hit 25 HRs, drive in 80 & play 3d base, I would make the deal. Otherwise it will still be a mediocre season.


1) Osuna – I’ve been a strong supporter for years as his approach at the plate reminds me of Cabrera. He might be the best 1b on the team right now.
With Bell coming off surgery and not swinging well what better time and opportunity will there be to put Osuna into a starting role day one at first.
The worst that happens is you find out if it’s real or not while Bell cleans up his swing. It’s the right time, especially with Freese needed at 3b.
Could be the move of the year for this team.


Tommy Lasorda: “Never make decisions based on Spring Training stats. They will break your heart”.


3) Santana – my moms favorite band and I can hear the walk up music now! Ready soon to be an impact late inning guy.
2)Ngope – who had that, Clint would say. Bring the bat with you young man and a role may be there right now.


5) Diaz – kinda reminds me of Pena a bit. More buff but seems to have a complete set of tools. He’s ready.
4) Hanson – I get it. Watch him play and you want more than you get, but it’s there… Ronnie Cedeno?


I agree with #4 ….Hansen’s main problem is focus.


)Of the prospects competing for roles on the team a few looked more than impressive- maybe just a sample but who knows.
Ranking time! Top prospects of spring…
10. Tdub – Trevor has looked strong this spring and his 95 with sink and the frame and the story from last year make him a lock for a role this year.
9. Woody – Eric hasn’t been with the bucs all spring but his power has been on display for WBC. Rising fast.
8. Edub- not sure who’s getting the utility role / 2b job but Weiss is streaking for the 2b job full time. His smooth lefty stroke was slashing the ball all spring.
7. Meadows- looks like a man this year. Growing the blond MMA beard. Soon.
6. Newman – I’ve been a long doubter of Kevin after seeing him at Morgantown. He looked lost with the bat. Not any more as he was lashing line drives. Mercer better play strong.

Nuke Laloosh

Eric Wood may have to come into play sooner than expected with the Kang situation blowing up. I’m not suggesting this year but we may never see Kang again in a big league uniform.


)the outfield may have its one final chance to be the dream outfield we all hoped for- if they don’t then likely that Cutch moves on and that dream is over having never happened.
)This infield is a great backup infield. Bell is really the only starter- maybe… should start in AAA IMO.
)Cervelli is the clear starter however Diaz should be given every chance to take that job and keep it if Cisco gets any significant injury- but Stewart looked strong behind the dish this spring and looks to be the best backup choice of healthy.


Some thoughts from spring:
)I didn’t see much of Gerrit Cole. What I saw looked good. His performance could make the difference between average year and a special one.
)If Cole isn’t ready to take that step forward then Jameson might take the Alfa role from him as he’s looked terrific.
)the Nova signing will look very good this year as he looks just as strong as he did last year.
)The success of these three pitchers hasn’t been discussed enough compared to the #4 and #5 starters. Just saying…
)Is anyone surprised the potential of Tony Watson losing the closer role isn’t even a topic except among fan chatter? It’s going to be before April is over.

Nuke Laloosh

I have to agree with you about Watson. The decreasing velo has to be a concern that he may not even have enough to be a setup man. Hughes is another big question mark. Has he done anything to keep his spot in the bullpen?


I hope you are wrong about Watson, but you are probably correct. And yes, the team’s success will be determined more by the top three than the bottom two spots in our rotation.

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