BRADENTON, Fla. -- Felipe Rivero sits in the back corner of the Pirates' clubhouse at LECOM Park. It's a good spot for him to set up his laptop and portable mixing board, which provides the soundtrack for some early Spring Training mornings. It's also an ideal vantage point to scan
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Felipe Rivero sits in the back corner of the Pirates' clubhouse at LECOM Park. It's a good spot for him to set up his laptop and portable mixing board, which provides the soundtrack for some early Spring Training mornings. It's also an ideal vantage point to scan the rest of the room.
Earlier this week, Rivero looked around the clubhouse and took stock of what he saw. He motioned toward another wall of lockers, nodding as he listed off the names above each one. Gregory Polanco. Starling Marte. Josh Bell. Adam Frazier. Josh Harrison.
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"That's the main reason I signed," Rivero said. "I see the guys."
The Pirates committed to Rivero, moving him into the ninth inning last season when he emerged as one of the game's most dominant late-inning relievers. They made him a core piece of their present and future. In return, Rivero committed to the Pirates by signing a long-term extension in January.
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That news broke on Jan. 15, the same day Pittsburgh dealt Andrew McCutchen to San Francisco. At the time, many wondered why Rivero would agree to such a deal -- four years for $22 million, plus a pair of $10 million club options -- after seeing McCutchen and Gerrit Cole traded away.
"I think the fans just see who left. They don't see who we've got," Rivero said. "We've got good communication. We're basically friends in here. I know them. They know me. I'm not going to go away. I feel comfortable here with Clint [Hurdle], with Ray [Searage], with all the pitching coaches."
That comfort was evident as Rivero put up a 1.67 ERA, a 0.89 WHIP and 21 saves while striking out 88 in 75 1/3 innings over 73 appearances last season. Now he's preparing for his first full season as the Pirates' closer.
"I think the mentality is going to be the same -- try to go out and do basically what I was doing last year," he said. "It's just a different inning. It's the same ballgame."
However, Rivero's role altered part of his offseason preparation. He began throwing in January, a month later than last year. He anticipated another heavy workload this season -- he'll occasionally be asked to record four or five outs, Hurdle said earlier this spring -- and knew he'd already secured a spot on the Opening Day roster.
As a result, he said, his first few Grapefruit League outings weren't up to his usual standard. He allowed five hits and five walks in five innings, though he still struck out six. His last two appearances have come on the back fields at Pirate City, a better place to work with less regard for the results.
Rivero threw one inning on Friday and two innings on Monday, focusing on his fastball and changeup in an effort to find his arm slot and repeat his delivery. Rivero reported improvement after each outing.
"I'm picking it up and I'm starting to feel good now," Rivero said. "Everything is back to normal."
Rivero's role is set. George Kontos will pitch in front of him, and it's likely Michael Feliz will secure the other setup role. The Pirates haven't confirmed anyone else who will be in the bullpen, and aside from Kontos and Rivero, it's a largely unproven group of relievers. That didn't bother Rivero as he sat in the corner of the clubhouse, nodding at the row of lockers next to him.
"Whoever it is in front of me, I think they'll do the job," Rivero said. "I'm pretty confident that every one of the guys that will make the team, they're going to get the job done."
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.