Melancon ever-ready for save situations

Closer makes sure to stay focused even when Pirates jump out to big leads

May 18th, 2016

PITTSBURGH -- Shortly after the second inning ended Tuesday night, Pirates physical therapist Kevin "Otis" Fitzgerald approached closer Mark Melancon. Pittsburgh had a nine-run lead. Should Melancon stop his usual stretching routine?

"No, we're not going to do that," Melancon replied. "I've seen crazier things."

Manager Clint Hurdle had told Melancon before the game that the Pirates would try to avoid using the closer if at all possible. He pitched back-to-back days Sunday and Monday, and a third straight day of work meant he would certainly be unavailable for Wednesday's game.

Combine that with a nine-run lead after two innings, and it was fair to expect that Melancon had the night off. He didn't, as it turned out, but he was still prepared to pitch a scoreless ninth inning and record his 13th save of the season in the Pirates' 12-9 win at PNC Park.

"Mentally, you stay with the game," Melancon said. "It doesn't matter, because I still enjoy watching the game and paying attention to it. It's not something I'm ever going to lose focus on.

"Yes, there is a bit of a mental [tendency] when you're shut down or something that you can relax a little bit, but I try not to ever do that when I'm available."

That's been one of Melancon's many strengths this season as the Pirates' closer. After saving 51 games a year ago, Melancon is tied for second in the Majors with 13 saves, behind the Phillies' Jeanmar Gomez, the former Pittsburgh reliever. Melancon's 0.86 WPA (Win Probability Added) leads all Pittsburgh pitchers.

Melancon has been called upon in a few unconventional save situations. His first, sixth, seventh and ninth saves were all less than one inning and required fewer than four pitches.

"It's just like another reliever coming in there," Melancon said. "You learn how to pace yourself."

On Monday, the Pirates had a six-run lead heading into the eighth and wound up needing Melancon to finish the game. On Tuesday, the Bucs' nine-run lead dwindled to three by the ninth.

Without fail, Hurdle has turned to Melancon when a save situation presents itself this season. No matter the score or situation, Melancon has been ready.

"I respect that a lot. I could see where he would go a different way or whatever, but given my role, that's what we're called to do," Melancon said. "I think he understands that and respects that. I really appreciate it."