Hudson, Watson settle into middle-relief roles

July 22nd, 2017

DENVER -- When stepped into the closer's role, he didn't just solidify the back end of the Pirates' bullpen, but the front end, as well.

Tony Watson and -- the two veterans originally slated for the late innings -- have rebounded to their old selves since Rivero began dominating the ninth. Entering Friday, Watson owns a 2.08 ERA since the June 9 switch and Hudson has a 1.93 ERA, and they've both lowered their season-long marks nearly a full run.

"It's a fun thing to watch, and these men are guys that have pitched much bigger leverage innings in the past," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Right now you're looking up and you've got Hudson striking out [Brewers third baseman Travis] Shaw yesterday on a 3-2 power slider ... [and] you watch Watson doing his thing going through the middle of the order in the seventh inning versus eighth or closing it, it's a different dynamic."

Watson's regression to the mean may have almost been expected when delving into the peripheral numbers. Among pitchers who've faced at least 150 batters, Watson has suffered the third-largest gap between his expected batting average allowed (.238) and his actual average allowed (.306).

Hudson's struggles, however, were more pronounced as the right-hander's ERA after the first six weeks of the year sat at 7.80. His resurgence has been part of a bigger, two-month long improvement during which he's lowered his ERA down to 4.12.

Hudson said he, Watson and eighth-inning man can be thrown into any situation because of their collective experience pitching at different points in the game. As for his in-season comeback, Hudson couldn't pinpoint to any specific change, rather chalking it up to continually adjusting.

"Maybe a certain pitch is starting to feel a bit better coming out of your hand than the other pitches, so you start focusing on using that a little bit more and you just kinda adjust from there," Hudson said.

Watson and Hudson's success has clearly trickled out to the rest of the bullpen, as the Pirates are coming off a homestand where their relievers gave up just two runs in 23 1/3 innings. Additionally, the Pirates are 22-14 since Rivero became the closer.

"As the season goes on, who knows if these roles will continue to work for us," Hurdle said. "I'm just fortunate to have a bunch of men down there who pay way more attention to the name on the front of the jersey than they do the name on the back."