PITTSBURGH -- Major League rosters expanded from 25 to 40 players on Friday, but the Pirates did not fill their roster with a bunch of prospects from Triple-A Indianapolis. On the contrary, they activated veteran relievers Wade LeBlanc and Joaquin Benoit off the 10-day disabled list.By unloading setup man Juan
PITTSBURGH -- Major League rosters expanded from 25 to 40 players on Friday, but the Pirates did not fill their roster with a bunch of prospects from Triple-A Indianapolis. On the contrary, they activated veteran relievers Wade LeBlanc and Joaquin Benoit off the 10-day disabled list.
By unloading setup man Juan Nicasio on Thursday, Pittsburgh made clear its intent to spend September looking toward next season. To that end, the Pirates will start using Dovydas Neverauskas and Daniel Hudson in high-leverage, late-inning situations. Both right-handers are set to return and play prominent roles in Pittsburgh's 2018 bullpen.
Right-hander George Kontos will join that late-inning mix when healthy, and reliever Edgar Santana will eventually find his way there as well. But the Bucs' top two Minor League affiliates, Indianapolis and Double-A Altoona, locked up spots in their leagues' postseasons.
Manager Clint Hurdle said the Pirates will not make many September callups until their affiliates' respective postseason runs are over.
"We, as an organization, believe there's gainful experience for the guys that are down there," Hurdle said.
The Pirates also expect to activate right fielder Gregory Polanco, catcher Francisco Cervelli and super-utility man Adam Frazier off the disabled list at some point within the next week. The Bucs have been carrying several young players on the roster in their place, including catcher Elias Diaz, outfielder Jordan Luplow and infielder Max Moroff.
"We've got more than enough manpower to play games and to compete," Hurdle said. "Our focus is still to have the best month we've had all year this month of September because there's a real opportunity there."
Despite the anticipated pivot toward young players over the season's final month, veterans John Jaso and Chris Stewart started Friday's series opener against the Reds at PNC Park. Jaso is a pending free agent, and Stewart has a club option for 2018. They also activated Benoit, a July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline rental, and LeBlanc, who has an '18 club option that likely won't be picked up.
It falls upon Hurdle and his coaching staff to balance their playing time down the stretch with the club's desire to see and evaluate younger players.
"We've got some guys that have been here for periods of time that may be looking at their last month in a Pirates' uniform. A lot is to be said for the relationship you built over that period of time," Hurdle said. "This isn't about 30 days. More often, it's about what they've pushed in, what we've worked toward together. You always look to keep people engaged in the game when it makes sense."
The Pirates intend to give right-hander Tyler Glasnow, who has dominated in Triple-A since being bumped out of their rotation, another shot in September. They will plug lefty Steven Brault into their rotation for at least one start on Tuesday.
Brault has been in the Bucs' bullpen since Aug. 22, but he recorded a 1.94 ERA and 1.07 WHIP in 21 games (20 starts) for Indianapolis. Brault will start on Tuesday in place of Ivan Nova, who has shown signs of fatigue while posting a 6.38 ERA in the second half. As of Friday, the Pirates had only discussed having Nova skip one start.
"We're just giving him a chance to catch his breath," Hurdle said.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.