MILWAUKEE -- Clint Hurdle had to round out the National League roster before managing the team in the 2008 All-Star Game, so he can sympathize with Dodgers manager Dave Roberts, who will be putting the finishing touches on this year’s NL squad.
“It’s a hard team to pick,” Hurdle said. “As good a job as you try to do, as many people as you try to talk to, it seems like there’s an All-Star team left off the All-Star team in a lot of people’s eyes.”
Still, Hurdle has made a point of endorsing Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez. The left-hander made last year’s All-Star team, and Hurdle believes his closer is deserving of another appearance this year in Cleveland.
“Felipe Vazquez is one of the best closers in the game. How that fits, we’re going to see,” Hurdle said. “If it doesn’t fit, yeah, you feel bad, because he’s legit. … If you’re looking for a left-handed guy out of the bullpen in the All-Star Game, I’d like to see that door opening and him coming out of it.”
Vazquez entered Saturday night’s game at Miller Park with a 1.80 ERA, a 1.03 WHIP, 19 saves and 55 strikeouts in 35 innings over 32 appearances. He’s giving up fewer hits than he did last year, he’s cut back on his walk rate and his strikeout rate has improved to a ridiculous 37.9 percent, which ranks seventh among all qualified Major League relievers.
Vazquez's dominance was on display in the Pirates’ 3-2 win over the Brewers on Friday night. Hurdle asked Vazquez to record the final six outs, and the closer used all four pitches in his arsenal to deliver two perfect innings without letting a ball escape the infield.
In the eighth inning, Vazquez struck out the top three hitters in Milwaukee’s lineup -- Yasmani Grandal, Christian Yelich and Mike Moustakas -- on 13 pitches. He baffled Yelich, the reigning NL MVP Award winner, by following up a 99 mph fastball and a 100 mph heater with an 88 mph slider that darted over the other batter’s box. Yelich went down swinging.
“You can watch a lot of sequences all year long, and you’re not going to see a better 13-pitch sequence than you saw in the eighth inning last night against some of the better hitters in the National League,” Hurdle said.
Vazquez paid attention to All-Star Game voting because he wanted to support teammate Josh Bell, who was a finalist at first base in the Google MLB All-Star Starters Election. Although Bell didn't win, he is likely to receive a reserve spot when the full rosters are revealed Sunday.
Will Vazquez join him? He’d like to go, sure, but he’s not too worried about it.
“I’m just trying to focus on my game now,” Vazquez said.
• Right-hander Chris Archer, who exited Friday’s game early due to left hip discomfort, will be reevaluated when the Pirates are back in Pittsburgh on Monday. He said Friday night that he would not have a good feel for his status moving forward until it’s time to throw his between-starts bullpen session.
• Catcher Francisco Cervelli, on the injured list with a concussion, is waiting for doctors to clear him for game action. Cervelli has been working out for about two weeks, and he’s participating in all the necessary baseball activities. He said he was tested by doctors on Thursday, but he is awaiting the results of that exam to determine his next step.
“I’ve been good for almost two weeks, but we’re taking this very seriously and doing what we have got to do before we get back on the field,” Cervelli said, citing his history of concussions. “This time, I’m not trying to be Superman.”
Cervelli fielded grounders at second and third base during batting practice before Friday’s game, but that wasn’t a sign of a pending position change.
“I’m bored, so I’ve got to do something,” Cervelli said with a laugh. “Just to keep myself active and do some stuff, that’s it.”
• To make room for the return of Jordan Lyles, who started Saturday, the Pirates optioned reliever Geoff Hartlieb to Triple-A Indianapolis. The rookie right-hander had an 8.10 ERA, 1.90 WHIP and 20 strikeouts in 20 innings over 14 appearances for the Pirates.
The Pirates like Hartlieb’s powerful arm and heavy sinker, but they want him to get more regular work in Indianapolis to help him take another step forward after his introduction to the Majors.
“He got to experience some success, and he got to experience some hardship as far as getting hit,” Hurdle said. “He was resilient throughout, never backed off, never stopped working.”
• On Saturday, the Pirates officially signed infielder Gift Ngoepe to a Minor League contract and assigned him to Double-A Altoona. During his first stint with the Bucs, Ngoepe became the first African-born player to reach the Majors and established himself as a popular player within the organization due to his joyful personality and dazzling defense.
“That was one of the best moments, from an organizational perspective, that we’ve had -- to see him at first base after that first hit,” Hurdle said.