PITTSBURGH — For the first time since April 24, Antonio Bastardo is back in the Pirates’ bullpen. Considering the fact that the 31-year-old left-hander is carrying a 16.20 ERA this season and took the entire 30-day rehab time to recover from a minor quad strain, he’s probably not expected to be returning as a conquering hero, even given the recent state of the Pirates bullpen.
But there is some reason for optimism according to Bastardo. He took his down time to work out a few things he wasn’t happy with about his game. He didn’t think his arm strength was up to par, so he spent an extended time building up to over two innings and pitching every other day for an extended stretch.
Then, he sought out some answers for the poor form that had plagued his first month of the season. When Bastardo left Pittsburgh, he couldn’t pinpoint anything that he was doing wrong and was frustrated about it. But he came back from Indianapolis with a plan.
“I was too much across in the front,” he said. “I was too closed. There were a couple things. I figured it out while I was pitching down there, watching the videos and stuff like that. I took time, but I figured it out. I’m just trying to execute the right way.”
Bastardo did plenty of work in Pirate City before he got to Indianapolis, but he said the real work — the honing of his craft — didn’t start until he had already finished his focus on strength and conditioning, which didn’t happened until midway through his tenure with the Tribe.
“In games, it’s more real,” Bastardo said. “When you’re in games, you know how to figure out games because if you fell something weird and the ball is not getting down in the zone or elevating when you want it, it’s more convenient and easier to figure it out in the game.”
Bastardo had a 3.18 ERA in his stint in Triple-A — hardly a sparkling figure for a nine-year veteran — and his 6.65 xFIP is downright scary. But he feels that he was rounding into form at the end of his rehab.
“The beginning was tricky,” he said. “I was just stretching my body a little bit. I wasn’t taking much time in between and I had to pitch every other day. I just feel much better right now.”
Over the last 15 days, Bastardo has pitched much better, too. Since June 11, he pitched five innings over six games. In that stretch, he allowed two just hits and two walks (0.800 WHIP) while striking out five.
“The velocity has ticked up from where it was when he started this process a month ago,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “The sharpness of the breaking ball, he’s improved.”
EIGHT’S A CROWD
Bastardo will give the Pirates eight relievers in the bullpen, as catcher Jacob Stallings was sent to Triple-A Indianapolis as the corresponding move for Bastardo’s reinstatement. The recent run of play of the bullpen was the impetus for keeping an extra arm around.
“I didn’t feel the need to move a pitcher out,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
The Pirates had been essentially playing down a position player with the third catcher on the bench, so the only thing the Stallings move will change is the availability of Elias Diaz to be used on days when Chris Stewart catches.
“You’re really going to gamble if you’re going to hit for Stew in the sixth inning,” Hurdle said. “Your other guy is catching for three, four innings. If he gets clipped, maybe you’re going into the game.”
Starting catcher Francisco Cervelli was at the ballpark on Tuesday, but did not speak with reporters. He returned early from the team’s road trip to get treated for a reoccurrence of his concussion symptoms.
“We’re going to see how Cervelli is feeling here the next few days,” Hurdle said.
Gm 77: #Pirates (35-41) vs
C Stew@MeLlamoTrevor (5.09) vs
Alex Cobb (4.05)
— Alan Saunders (@ASaunders_PGH) June 27, 2017
Andrew McCutchen will hit No. 3, while Gregory Polanco will move down to No. 6. With McCutchen hitting much better since making the move, Hurdle hopes to get a similar result from Polanco.
“Yeah. The dynamic, to push him down, give it a chance to play up and see where it can take him,” Hurdle said.