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Watson flashing back to dominant form

MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- Tony Watson looked like his old self Thursday night at PNC Park.

First, consider the timing of Watson's appearance. He entered Pittsburgh's 4-0 win with two on and one out in the seventh inning to face two of Tampa Bay's toughest hitters: Corey Dickerson and Evan Longoria.

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PITTSBURGH -- Tony Watson looked like his old self Thursday night at PNC Park.

First, consider the timing of Watson's appearance. He entered Pittsburgh's 4-0 win with two on and one out in the seventh inning to face two of Tampa Bay's toughest hitters: Corey Dickerson and Evan Longoria.

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Manager Clint Hurdle indicated Watson might re-establish himself in lower-leverage situations after being demoted from the ninth inning last month, but that spot was hardly comfortable.

It was a familiar situation for Watson, one of the Majors' best setup men before he was moved into the ninth following the Mark Melancon trade last July.

"He's done it. He's got the DNA for it," Hurdle said Saturday. "We'll try to plug guys back into situations that they had success in before to help reignite them."

It worked, and it may have been a sign of better things to come for the former closer.

Watson got ahead of Dickerson with a sinker down and in, tossed a slider for a swing-and-miss then came back inside with a sinker that Dickerson tipped back. Watson went up and in to jam Longoria, who popped out. In that brief appearance, Watson was at his best.

"That's just who I am -- owning the inner half," Watson said. "You get the whole plate to work with. What I was running into is mistakes were getting hit. Every mistake. I wasn't getting away with anything. ... You've got to give yourself some room for error by going in there with some conviction and being able to show you can make that pitch."

Watson's increased velocity over the last two weeks also provides more margin for error.

In seven appearances from June 18 to Thursday, Watson's sinker averaged 94.1 mph, according to Statcast™. He isn't sure what's led to the increase other than clean mechanics and warmer weather, but that figure is higher than last year (93.8 mph) and his first 28 appearances this season (92.6 mph) and identical to his 2011-15 average.

"He's getting back in the neighborhood that he had his most effectiveness with," Hurdle said. "The changeup plays better off the fastball. ... Definitely, I think it can help."

Making noise in the Minors

Even after demoting Tyler Glasnow last month, the Pirates have two starters in Triple-A Indianapolis pushing for big league jobs: right-hander Drew Hutchison and lefty Steven Brault.

Brault has a 2.04 ERA in 16 games (15 starts) this season, while Hutchison put together a 1.86 ERA over his past seven outings. Both pitchers finished behind Glasnow and Trevor Williams in the Spring Training race for the fifth starter job.

There is no guarantee their success would translate to the Majors, but the Pirates have taken notice.

"I'm proud of the men, the way they've gone about their work and the things they're doing to put themselves in a position to help this club," Hurdle said. "The next opportunity, when it's real, they both have worked hard and they're doing the things we've asked them to do."

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

Pittsburgh Pirates, Tony Watson