Pirates Notebook: Dovydas Neverauskas Appears to Be Getting an Increased Role Lately

PITTSBURGH — Reliever George Kontos started to warm up on Sunday during the Pirates’ Little League Classic game in Williamsport, Pa., but wasn’t able to enter the game in the seventh inning due to some “lower body discomfort,” manager Clint Hurdle said Monday.

Hurdle was unsure of Kontos’ status going into Monday’s series opener with the Los Angeles Dodgers.

With Kontos unavailable and A.J. Schugel in trouble on the mound against the Cardinals on Sunday, Hurdle turned to rookie Dovydas Neverauskas to get out of a two-on, one-out jam.

“It wasn’t expected, but it is what it is,” Neverauskas said. “I had to go out there and just pitch.”

Based on his usage, it’s pretty clear that Hurdle has increased his level of trust in Neverauskas. His first five major-league appearances all came in blowouts. Since then, he’s pitched in extra innings, up five in the sixth, and up three in the seventh.

“Dovydas was the next man up for me at that time,” Hurdle said. “I liked Dovydas against the middle of that lineup if we got there. … I thought our better option was to get a power arm against the power middle of the lineup.

Neverauskas got Paul DeJong to ground into a fielder’s choice before freezing Dexter Fowler with a 1-2 curveball to escape the jam. The curveball has been a work in progress for Neverauskas, but he feels confident using it, particularly in pitcher’s counts.

“My curveball has gotten a lot better since Spring Training,” Neverauskas said. “I’ve been throwing it a lot, trying to improve and being able to place it when I need it. Most times, it’s for when I’m 0-2, 1-2, ahead and trying to get a strikeout with a swing and a miss or something like that. As long as it’s down, it’s good.”

Neverauskas got Fowler looking on a curveball that painted the bottom of the strike zone. He said he was trying to bury it, but everything worked out. The ability to throw it for a strike and throw it as a swing-and-miss pitch out of the zone is something that Neverauskas is still getting a feel for. He’s thrown the pitch around 14 percent of the time in the majors, with velocities varying from a high-70s true curve to a high-80s slurve or even more a of slider.

“It’s just been using it in games and seeing what I get from it,” he said. “Is it good enough to throw it here? I think so. I’ve been throwing it in Indy in those situations just to see where I’m at with it. It’s been good lately, probably the last month and a half.”

RED-HOT DODGER BLUES

The Dodgers are on an unreal run this season, with an 87-34 record — on pace for over 116 wins, which is the MLB record set by the Chicago Cubs back in 1906. Hurdle remarked on the impressiveness of the Dodgers’ season, despite rarely having a full roster.

“(Clayton) Kershaw’s been out a month,” Hurdle said. “Their guy that’s hit third or fourth for them for the seven years that I’ve been in Pittsburgh — (Adrian) Gonzalez — hasn’t played a whole lot. Now he’s back.”

WATSON ON THE OTHER SIDE

Tony Watson will face his former teammates for the first time since being exchanged for a pair of prospects at the trade deadline. Hurdle acknowledged that it’ll be strange, but not for too long.

“It’ll all go away as soon as he takes the mound,” Hurdle said. “We already had to go through the scouting report, talking about what we’ve got to do to beat him. Game on. I’m sure he feels the same way.”

LeBLANC ON THE MEND

Wade LeBlanc said that his left quad strain is progressing nicely. He said he just felt it grab after a pitch. After taking a few days off, he threw on Monday and is expected to throw a full bullpen on Wednesday. He is eligible to return from the disabled list on Sunday.

STARTING LINEUP

Starling Marte was a late question mark after a couple of awkward plays on the bases in Williamsport, but is good to go and is batting leadoff.

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