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Inbox: Changes coming to the Bucs' bullpen?

Beat reporter Adam Berry answers questions from Pirates fans
MLB.com @adamdberry

Are the Pirates going to make some changes to the bullpen, like trading players or calling players up?
-- Josiah S., Pittsburgh

I'm not sure why they would. Their weakness for about two weeks to start the season has since emerged as a strength.

Are the Pirates going to make some changes to the bullpen, like trading players or calling players up?
-- Josiah S., Pittsburgh

I'm not sure why they would. Their weakness for about two weeks to start the season has since emerged as a strength.

The Bucs have a 2.82 bullpen ERA since April 13, the third-best mark in the Majors. If that date seems random, it's not. That afternoon, they swapped out Josh Smoker and Clay Holmes for Kyle Crick and Richard Rodriguez. Later in the month, they promoted Nick Kingham and bumped Steven Brault back into the bullpen.

Crick has been excellent, posting a 2.19 ERA with 16 strikeouts in 12 1/3 innings. Rodriguez has been even better -- and one of the biggest surprises of the season, in my opinion -- as he's recorded a 1.53 ERA with 30 strikeouts and two walks (both intentional) in 17 2/3 innings. And Brault has been outstanding in the bullpen, where his stuff has played up as he's put together a 1.69 ERA.

The Pirates have also plugged a couple of big arms -- Michael Feliz and Edgar Santana -- into bigger spots in front of closer Felipe Vazquez following George Kontos' early struggles. Feliz (2.70 ERA, 1.15 WHIP) and Santana (2.79 ERA, 0.98 WHIP) have both been lights-out.

I wouldn't be surprised if they add another veteran arm to deepen the group in the second half of the season, if they're contending, but they're set for now.

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Who is most likely to move to the bullpen if Joe Musgrove is healthy and Kingham continues his strong start? Or does Ivan Nova become trade bait given his recent struggles?
-- Stephen A., Gill, Mass.

Whether Pittsburgh tries to move Nova probably depends on where it stands at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, but he's not going anywhere yet. Nobody's going to the bullpen yet, either. The Pirates will finally see their intended rotation of Jameson Taillon, Trevor Williams, Chad Kuhl, Nova and Musgrove this week, with Kingham the next man up.

Video: SD@PIT: Kingham strikes out Hosmer swinging 

"It's nice to have the comfort of Nick, knowing he can come up and keep us in a game and give us a legitimate chance to win," General manager Neal Huntington said. "The best organizations have those guys in Triple-A, and the hard part for Nick is he's that guy."

What are the chances that Jung Ho Kang plays at the Major League level this year?
-- Nathan S., Pittsburgh

What moves would the team need to make room for Kang? Third base seems wrapped up. Would he play shortstop?
-- Jay P, Frankfort, Ky.

We'll group these together. The Pirates are giving Kang every chance, but they aren't setting any sort of firm timeline for his return or offering any assurances about where/when he'll play.

If Kang shows that he can return to his 2015-16 form after more than a year away following a DUI charge in South Korea, he'll make it back. We won't have a sense of how likely that is until he starts facing higher-level competition. Even that could be a while, as he's just beginning the Spring Training-esque game progression at Pirate City in Bradenton, Fla. He still needs at-bats.

Huntington offered an encouraging report on Sunday, saying Kang is working hard and doing "everything that he can do to get back to being the best player that he's going to be." Still, Huntington said, there are times when Kang's extended absence from the field is evident.

So the Pirates probably won't have to answer your question for a while, Jay, but there have been hints that he's being prepped for a utility/bench role. He is playing games at third base but doing pregame work at shortstop. If he's comfortable there, the Pirates will consider adding second base to his repertoire.

If Austin Meadows hits like he is projected to, would you not consider trading Gregory Polanco?
-- Frank G., Miami

Meadows is probably going back to Triple-A when Starling Marte returns, if everyone else is healthy. Huntington said Meadows still has room to develop and needs to play every day, which felt a little like laying the groundwork for that move. Remember Josh Bell's incredible first call-up, when he hit the grand slam against the Cubs? They sent him down, too.

Video: SD@PIT: Meadows launches his 1st career home run

I know Polanco's inconsistent play frustrates fans. (And if I didn't, I would've been reminded when he was booed Sunday at PNC Park.) But I think his overall struggles have been exaggerated. He's hitting .273 with an .888 OPS this month. He still leads the team in home runs and walks (and, yes, strikeouts), and his 115 wRC+ is 12th among qualified right fielders in the Majors -- just ahead of Andrew McCutchen.

Polanco's also under contract through 2021 with club options for '22 and '23. He is a big part of their future, just like Marte and Meadows. The reality is that Corey Dickerson is less than two years away from free agency, and both Marte and Polanco (and Meadows, for that matter) have dealt with injuries in the past.

These situations typically have a way of working themselves out. Having four capable outfielders in the meantime is not a bad thing. So no, I wouldn't look to trade him.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.

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