The Pirates are expecting to need a few pitchers with starting experience to pitch in long relief this season. Thankfully, they have someone who has gone through that transition successfully.
Chris Stratton made 26 starts for the Giants in 2018, then began ‘19 with five starts for the Angels before he was traded to the Pirates for cash. The club has not used him as a starter since.
The adjustment process wasn’t seamless for Stratton. He had to quickly adjust from his routine of long toss and scheduled processes before going in for the first inning to potentially spending eight or more hours between his pregame work and his call to the bullpen. Staying sharp was easier said than done.
“The feeling that, ‘If they go to me right here, am I ready?’” Stratton said. “I think that’s one of the things that kind of took me a second to figure out, my own routine and talking with some guys who have done it before. That’s the biggest thing -- to try and communicate and do your best to be ready.”
The conglomeration of arms the Pirates have accumulated is a great problem to have. Guys who have been starters like, Cody Ponce and Wil Crowe, or who may become starters, like Miguel Yajure, may be called on to throw bulk in relief vs. being in the rotation.
“I truly don’t know who’s going to be on the team to start the year, but I know that we have a lot of good options to pick from,” Stratton said, “and whoever does end up going to the alternate site or however the Triple-A season happens, we’ll have guys to come up and fill in with good innings. Not just eat up innings, but give us quality innings.”
Now, Stratton has carved his own role as a leverage or length-ready option for the Pirates. He was one of the most reliable arms in the bullpen last season, finishing with a 3.90 ERA while pitching anywhere between one and three innings at any point from the fourth to the ninth inning.
The pitch being reworked this spring: his curveball. Stratton said that in his conversation with bullpen coach Justin Meccage and pitching coach Oscar Marin, they identified that his previous curveball grip was leading to a pitch that came out of the hand more like a two-seamer, while Stratton is throwing largely four-seamers. They’ve tweaked the grip slightly, leading to a pitch with a little shorter motion but better mimicry.
“I throw a lot of fastballs up, so just pairing those two together, changing the grip will hopefully lead to more swing and miss,” Stratton said.
“There are times we’ve seen good ones flashed and then there are times you can tell it’s still a work in progress,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “… That’s something we’ve identified with him, and we’re just looking for more consistency, and so is he.”
• Steven Brault lasted only two innings in his start, and the Pirates announced that he exited the game with left arm tightness. The silver lining is that the discomfort came in his latissimus muscle, which stretches from the back into the armpit, and not in his forearm, which sometimes suggests elbow trouble.
“We’re going to go day to day and kind of reassess and have him evaluated and have him move on from there and have more information as we go forward,” Shelton said.
• With a lot of arms still in camp, the Pirates provided some innings to a quartet of pitchers with a “B” game vs. the Tigers on Friday.
Per the team, JT Brubaker started and threw 67 pitches in four innings. Three pitchers the team has yet to use in Grapefruit League games this spring -- Trevor Cahill, Luis Oviedo and Duane Underwood Jr. -- each threw an inning. Cahill threw 24 pitches, Oviedo threw 23 pitches and Underwood threw 18 pitches.
Shelton did not watch the outings, but he said he got encouraging reports from Marin and got to check in with a couple of the new Pirates who pitched in Oviedo and Cahill.
“Sounds like it went well for both of them,” Shelton said. “I know Oviedo gave up a home run and then pitched really well after that. From talking to Trevor Cahill, he said it was fine. Just kind of knocking the rust off -- those are my words, not his -- in terms of facing hitters.”
Familiar face in the booth
Friday’s telecast marked the first appearance for a former Pirates first baseman in the color analyst chair.
Kevin Young, who played 11 of his 12 MLB seasons in Pittsburgh, joined the AT&T SportsNet booth for the first time in his new role, working alongside longtime play-by-play commentator Greg Brown. Young will join the radio booth on Saturday and Sunday for the Pirates’ games against the Tigers and the Red Sox.
The Pirates will make the trip Saturday to Lakeland, Fla., to face the Tigers for the second time this spring. It will be a battle of veteran left-handers with Tyler Anderson going for Pittsburgh and Matthew Boyd making the start for Detroit. Following up Anderson will be Richard Rodriguez, Michael Feliz, Kyle Crick and Chasen Shreve. The 1:05 p.m. ET contest will be available via a free audio webcast on Pirates.com.