PITTSBURGH — The under-the-radar move of the Pirates unexpectedly busy first weekend in August may have been the acquisition of right-handed relief pitcher George Kontos on waivers from the San Francisco Giants.
Kontos, 32, reported to the Pirates on Monday and will be available out of the bullpen Monday night against the Detroit Tigers. He replaced Jhan Mariñez in the Pirates’ bullpen, but despite their similar profiles, it seems that Kontos is in line to take a much larger role.
“He can pitch the seventh inning, he can pitch the eighth inning, he can pitch tied, he can pitch one run down, one run up,” manager Clint Hurdle said Monday afternoon. “Those are the roles that he’s pitched in the last year plus with Bruce (Bochy in San Francisco). The numbers speak for themselves the last 200 innings, where he ranks on the relievers list. His ERA, 50 appearances this year, batting averages against. This man is a workhorse.”
Speaking of Kontos’ numbers, he is indeed a workhorse, topping 50 appearances in three straight seasons. Since 2015, he’s 20th in the majors in innings pitched amongst relievers, and 22nd in appearances.
This season, he has a 3.83 ERA and a 4.01 FIP with a 3.55 xFIP. He has a 24.7-percent strikeout rate and a 47.9-percent ground-ball rate. The strikeout rate is what separates Kontos from a pitcher like Mariñez, that also had a high ground-ball rate, but was limited in the other ways he could get hitters out.
“(Kontos) has a slider that plays,” Hurdle said. “He’s got a fastball that’s firm with some finish. This was a good addition for our bullpen. He’s pitched one-plus innings 15 or 16 times this year. Sometimes he’ll finish off an inning and pitch another one or vise versa. He’s shown the ability to do that, get ground balls and work with runners on base.”
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Kontos spoke with the Pittsburgh media for the first time and spoke highly of Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage, among other topics.
TWO FOR ONE
Sean Rodriguez will start on Monday, giving Jordy Mercer a day off at shortstop. Since Rodriguez departed for Atlanta in the off-season, the Pirates have tried a number of options as Mercer’s backup, but didn’t have much luck.
The shortstop part went fine, as Gift Ngoepe was probably a defensive upgrade over Mercer and Phil Gosselin and Max Moroff did just fine with the glove. The problem was that none of them hit.
Ngoepe had a .619 OPS in his time in Pittsburgh and somehow that was the best of the three, with Moroff checking in at .449 and Gosselin at .365.
Rodriguez has shown the ability to hit with a career .695 OPS and a dead-even 100 OPS+ this season after his dramatic home run Sunday. With Rodriguez in the fold as the backup shortstop, the Pirates have eliminated a non-hitting option from their bench, giving Hurdle four legitimate offensive options.
“That’s part of the skill package that makes him such an attractive option,” Hurdle said. “If he doesn’t start the game, you can double switch with him anywhere on the field at any point in time in the game. It’s easy. Yesterday, he started at second base and ended up at first. If we had one more move to make, we could have moved him somewhere else.”
Gm 112: #Pirates (54-57) vs 🐅 (51-59)
C 🇮🇹🇻🇪@MeLlamoTrevor 4.47 vs. J. Zimmerman 5.35
— Alan Saunders (@ASaunders_PGH) August 7, 2017
Kontos’ arrival coincides with a 12-inning game on Sunday. Closer Felipe Rivero will likely be unavailable, and Hurdle said the team needed to make a move one way or another to get a fresh arm involved. Kontos will wear No. 70. The only other Pirates player to wear 70 was Jared Hughes as a rookie in 2011. The Pirates will play seven straight games against American League teams. They are 4-7 in Interleague play this season.