'Pen flashing different looks, similar success

Pirates vary tone leading up to Melancon

April 6th, 2016

PITTSBURGH -- As the Pirates built their bullpen this offseason and pared down the candidates in Spring Training, they weighed a number of factors. They wanted their seven best relievers, but also a group that would complement each other.

So the Pirates sought out different looks, different arm slots, different types of pitchers. In Tuesday's 6-5 win over the Cardinals, the Bucs trotted out five relievers spanning a wide range.

"We went across the gamut last night," manager Clint Hurdle said Wednesday, before the Pirates' 5-1 win. "[Ryan] Vogelsong was coming in next and was going to be another different look."

The sixth inning went to Arquimedes Caminero, a right-hander who touched 100 mph. Then came lefty Tony Watson, righty Neftali Feliz, cutter-heavy closer Mark Melancon and finally lefty Kyle Lobstein, whose hardest pitch clocked in at 89 mph.

"They've got to throw strikes, No. 1. They've got to have movement, No. 2. If anything's straight and doesn't have late life in some degree, you're going to get hit," Hurdle said. "It goes to show you that it's not all about velocity. It can play. It can help."

Ideally, Hurdle would like to build two different "bridges" to Melancon. With a lead, the Pirates likely will continue handing the ball to some combination of Watson and Feliz in the seventh and eighth, setting up Melancon in the ninth.

But the Bucs believe they've constructed a deep enough bullpen this season that they can piece together a different, but equally effective, group in front of Melancon.

"I think that's something we've gotten closer to morphing into here," Hurdle said. "I believe with the arm slots, with the skill sets that we have out there this year, it's a very unique opportunity for us as a team, me as a manager, Ray [Searage] as a pitching coach to be able to work."

The Pirates will continue to use Watson, last year's eighth-inning man, in the seventh when the opportunity is right. Hurdle will send out Watson in the seventh based on matchups and leverage, also taking into consideration where Feliz is most likely to succeed. Hurdle all but ruled out using Watson earlier than the seventh inning, however.

Goebbert claimed

Outfielder Jake Goebbert, designated for assignment on Opening Day, was claimed off waivers by the Rays on Wednesday. The Pirates signed Goebbert to a Major League contract over the offseason, but his potential spot was essentially assumed by fellow lefty-swinging outfielder Matt Joyce.

Reliever John Holdzkom and shortstop Pedro Florimon were designated for assignment alongside Goebbert on Sunday. Pittsburgh has until Tuesday to trade, release or outright Holdzkom and Florimon.

On this date in Pirates history

On April 6, 1973, the Pirates retired Roberto Clemente's No. 21 jersey and opened the season against the Cardinals. Current Bucs broadcaster Steve Blass started the game opposite Cards Hall of Famer Bob Gibson, and Pittsburgh picked up a 7-5 win in front of 51,695 fans at Three Rivers Stadium.