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Searage bullish on young pitching staff

Renowned pitching coach expresses praise, confidence in Pirates' arms
MLB.com @adamdberry

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Sitting inside a small room adjacent to the clubhouse at LECOM Park on Wednesday afternoon, Ray Searage could not hide his excitement.

Renowned for his work with reclamation projects during the Pirates' run of success from 2013-15, Searage is now charged with guiding a young staff that figures to include only two pitchers older than 30 on the Opening Day roster: Ivan Nova and George Kontos. Searage is up for the challenge, speaking of his players with effusive praise and unbridled optimism interspersed with nicknames, anecdotes and broad smiles.

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FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Sitting inside a small room adjacent to the clubhouse at LECOM Park on Wednesday afternoon, Ray Searage could not hide his excitement.

Renowned for his work with reclamation projects during the Pirates' run of success from 2013-15, Searage is now charged with guiding a young staff that figures to include only two pitchers older than 30 on the Opening Day roster: Ivan Nova and George Kontos. Searage is up for the challenge, speaking of his players with effusive praise and unbridled optimism interspersed with nicknames, anecdotes and broad smiles.

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"It's awesome," Searage said. "We have the want-to, so that's a good thing. We can do it, so that's good, too. Now, we've just got to go do it."

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The Pirates are relying on Nova and a quartet of young starters: Jameson Taillon, Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams and Joe Musgrove. Searage is confident they can make up for most of the 200 innings the Bucs lost by dealing Gerrit Cole to the Astros in January.

Specifically, Pittsburgh is expecting a bounce-back by Taillon, who battled testicular cancer last season, and steps forward from Kuhl and Williams. Searage also believes Nova, the veteran of the staff at 31 years old, will benefit from his offseason workout routine and the experience of going wire to wire in the rotation last season.

Kuhl arrived in the Majors as a sinker/slider pitcher with a history of high ground-ball rates, only to reinvent himself last year. He started unleashing a four-seamer that touched 99 mph and a curveball with a spin rate near that of Astros starters Charlie Morton and Lance McCullers Jr. In his final 16 starts, he posted a 3.38 ERA and struck out nearly a batter per inning.

"With Kuhly, I don't think he knows how good he can be," Searage said. "There was one game he was a four-seam/curveball guy, then there was another game he was a two-seamer/slider guy. I'm going, all right, if we put these two together, oh my gosh!"

Video: PIT@ATL: Hurdle and Kuhl reflect on start vs. Braves

Williams may have been the Pirates' most dependable starter after he joined the rotation in May, posting a 3.65 ERA in his final 24 outings. Searage's demeanor -- joyous when his pitchers succeed, stern when they need correction -- stands out to Williams as a key to his success.

"Ray believes you're a better pitcher than you are. I think that's the main thing," Williams said. "He's not a guy who's going to blow smoke. He's going to get on you when he needs to get on you. He's going to let you know what you need to hear."

Still, without guaranteed 200-inning arms in their rotation, the Pirates have discussed carrying several multiple-inning relievers. Two of their options, Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow, are starters by trade.

Searage suggested Brault and Glasnow will be able to learn from more experienced relievers, including Kontos, Michael Feliz and closer Felipe Rivero. That communication goes both ways, Searage said, noting that Kontos recently experimented with the changeup grip employed by reliever A.J. Schugel.

"With the personalities of all of them, there are different ones and there are some who are similar. It's really a lot of fun as a coach to have a conversation with these guys," Searage said. "I encourage talking to each other out there. That's how I learned. It's not my way or the highway. It's our way. Whatever works."

Video: PIT@TOR: Brault gets Morales swinging

Brault has had a fine spring, producing a 1.69 ERA and 0.75 WHIP. Glasnow's line -- including an 8.03 ERA and 1.78 WHIP -- have been uneven, although his last start was a step in the right direction. Searage left little doubt, however, when asked if he has seen progress from the 6-foot-8 right-hander.

"Oh, yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. And I'm very happy to see that going on," Searage said. "I'm real happy with his progress. He's not a done deal by no means, but it's really good to see."

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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