PITTSBURGH -- When the Pirates acquired reliever Kyle Crick in January, his story might have impressed manager Clint Hurdle more than his stuff. Crick was a first-round Draft pick by the Giants in 2011, a starter seemingly destined to eventually reach San Francisco. The right-hander stalled out in the Minors,
PITTSBURGH -- When the Pirates acquired reliever Kyle Crick in January, his story might have impressed manager Clint Hurdle more than his stuff. Crick was a first-round Draft pick by the Giants in 2011, a starter seemingly destined to eventually reach San Francisco. The right-hander stalled out in the Minors, spending three years in Double-A, before securing a spot in the Giants' bullpen last year.
Crick faced another obstacle this spring, when he didn't break camp with the Pirates. Now he's their No. 2 reliever. Crick, 25, has thrived in his first season with the Bucs, and he has emerged as Pittsburgh's highest-leverage reliever behind closer Felipe Vazquez.
"He's hungry," Hurdle said on Saturday. "He's worked hard. It didn't come easy."
But Crick has made pitching look easy as of late. By pitching a scoreless eighth inning in Saturday afternoon's 2-1 Game 1 win over Milwaukee, he lowered his ERA to 1.98, tallying 37 strikeouts over 36 1/3 innings this season. He last allowed a run on June 11, more than a month ago, and he hasn't given up a home run since April 25.
"Just getting ahead of people, being aggressive in the zone. I'm throwing all our pitches for strikes, mixing it up," Crick said. "If people know you have three different pitches, they have to worry about a lot of things."
Crick, part of the Pirates' return for Andrew McCutchen, is throwing more fastballs than he did for the Giants last year. He's increased his two-seam fastball usage by 15 percent, according to Statcast™. That's given him another weapon against right-handed hitters, who entered Saturday with a .515 OPS against him -- down from .648 last year.
"It's a pretty big pitch for me," Crick said.
Crick is not technically Pittsburgh's eighth-inning reliever, because Hurdle will use him earlier if the situation demands it. But he and Vazquez have formed a dynamic late-inning duo, both entering Saturday with a 13-game scoreless streak. With Vazquez unavailable on Friday, Crick recorded a four-out save to seal the Pirates' 7-3 win.
"He's just out to get something done," Hurdle said. "He wants to be a really good pitcher in the big leagues. He wants to be a really good reliever in the big leagues. … He has definitely moved upon this opportunity in a very strong and committed way."
Around the horn
• Right-hander Clay Holmes joined the Pirates on Saturday as their designated 26th man for the second game against the Brewers.
• Starter Trevor Williams, who pitched on Wednesday, will be available out of the bullpen for Sunday's series finale. Right-hander Joe Musgrove will start the Bucs' final game of the first half.
• This is the first season the Pirates have played at least three doubleheaders since they played nine in 2004.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.