Track records bring O'Flaherty, Pirates together

Lefty reliever sees opportunity to rebound in Pittsburgh

February 23rd, 2016
Eric O'Flaherty throws a pitch during a bullpen session at Pirates camp.AP

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Eric O'Flaherty did his homework. He examined the Pirates' roster, asked around about their heralded pitching coach and listened for input about their defense behind the plate.

O'Flaherty sought an opportunity this offseason, looking for the right place to rediscover his old form. One of the Majors' best left-handed relievers earlier this decade, O'Flaherty believes he's found the right place to rebound.

Pittsburgh signed O'Flaherty to a Minor League contract shortly before Spring Training began, counting on the lefty's impressive track record and the club's proven ability to guide pitchers back to success.

"I've seen a lot of guys that hit a little bump in the road and smoothed things out here," O'Flaherty said in the Pirate City clubhouse. "That was definitely a big draw."

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First, O'Flaherty had to prove he was healthy. After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2013, O'Flaherty dealt with shoulder tendinitis early last season. Add in some newfound mechanical flaws, and he wound up with an 8.10 ERA over 41 appearances for the A's and Mets.

It was an uncharacteristic spike for a pitcher who posted a 1.99 ERA with the Braves from 2009-13. More unusual: It wasn't even his first full season removed from Tommy John surgery, often a time pitchers struggle.

Dig deeper, though, and you'll see the A's carefully protected O'Flaherty as he posted a 2.25 ERA over 21 appearances in 2014. If he pitched one day, he was guaranteed the next day off. That wasn't the case last season.

"Throwing every day and being available every day was more of a test for the arm," O'Flaherty said. "Last year I'm looking at as my first full year. ... I'm ready to put it behind me and move on to a new year."

So the 31-year-old began throwing earlier than normal, preparing for a showcase in which he could demonstrate his offseason progress. Clubs started to express their interest, and O'Flaherty zeroed in on the Pirates.

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Even as a non-roster invitee, he knew there was an opportunity here. The Pirates' only left-handed reliever is setup man Tony Watson. While they insist they won't carry a second lefty just for the sake of having one, there is at least one spot up for grabs in the bullpen.

"That was really appealing to me," O'Flaherty said.

He knew of the Pirates' proclivity for reviving pitchers' careers. Pitching coach Ray Searage has developed an almost unmatched reputation. So O'Flaherty asked Brian McCann to pass along former Pirates reliever Justin Wilson's opinion on the organization. He talked to Jesse Chavez, among others, about Searage and the coaching staff.

"Everybody said the same things. They said he's great, and they said the organization's great," O'Flaherty said. "Those things start to matter; you start asking those questions as you get farther along. How you're treated is everything."

So far, O'Flaherty has found the reality to match the reviews. All that's left to do is make the most of the opportunity.

"You sure have got to like the back of the ball card," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "If we can find a way to get him close to that, he would be a welcome addition to the bullpen."