The Pirates added a pair of arms to their bullpen Saturday before their game against the Brewers at Miller Park, hoping both will regain the form they’ve previously shown.
Pittsburgh reinstated right-hander Kyle Crick from the 10-day injured list and activated right-hander Carson Fulmer. Crick, one of the Pirates’ top late-inning relievers entering the season, has been sidelined since July 28 because of a right shoulder/lat muscle strain. The Bucs claimed Fulmer, the former first-round Draft pick, off waivers from the Tigers on Monday.
The Pirates are eventually counting on Crick, 27, to help fill the void left at the back end of the bullpen by all the injuries they’ve sustained, most notably to closer Keone Kela (right forearm inflammation) and the season-ending injuries to right-handers Nick Burdi, Clay Holmes and Michael Feliz.
“Obviously, we’re excited to have him back,” manager Derek Shelton said. “I think we’re probably going to integrate him and make sure he gets his feet wet and put him in the right situations now. It’ll gradually go closer to the back end.”
Crick was an excellent setup man in 2018, his first season with the Pirates. He posted a 2.39 ERA and 1.13 WHIP with 65 strikeouts in 60 1/3 innings over 64 appearances. He got off to a good start last year, putting up a 1.83 ERA through his first 21 appearances, then struggled with a pitch-tipping issue and finished the season on the injured list with a 4.96 ERA and 1.55 WHIP in 52 outings.
Crick seemed to be behind schedule in Summer Camp, and his stuff wasn’t quite the same in his first two appearances of this season. His average fastball velocity declined from 95.3 mph last year to 91.4 mph in July, and his slider lost about 200 RPM on average.
Crick faced his teammates in live batting practice three times before being activated. He said he used the downtime to refine some flaws in his delivery and to work with the club’s physical therapists, notably A.J. Patrick. The primary issue was how Crick transferred his weight: He was pushing off and landing on his toes rather than his heels.
Shelton said Crick’s fastball velocity is “trending up to where we want it to be,” and the Pirates are pleased with the spin he has shown on his wipeout slider.
“Fastball velocity, for me, has always been something that comes over time, something that you build up to over 3-6 weeks of really ripping on it in spring,” Crick said. “And we had less time, so I think I was trying to rip on it a little earlier than I normally would. I would say it was down because of that and numerous other things.”
Meanwhile, the Pirates are betting on the upside that once made Fulmer the eighth overall pick in the 2015 Draft. In fact, Shelton said that pitching coach Oscar Marin and bullpen coach Justin Meccage are “trying to rekindle a little bit of what people saw, why he was a No. 1 pick.”
It’s a worthwhile gamble for the Pirates as they look to add talent to their organization. Fulmer certainly has the ability, based on his track record at Vanderbilt University, but he hasn’t put it all together in the professional ranks.
“I haven't been the pitcher that I was touted to be, or the pitcher I wanted to be. I feel like I'm going to have a really long career in the big leagues,” Fulmer said. “I'm very confident and believe in my ability to go out there, take the ball and give us the best chance to win when I take the mound. But, you know, this game is nothing but full of adjustments.”
Fulmer made it to the Majors a little more than a year after he was drafted, but he owns a 6.57 ERA in 51 big league appearances. He said his former clubs implemented a number of mechanical changes, including the addition of a full windup that removed some deception from his delivery and made him feel “disconnected” on the mound.
“My velocity dropped a little bit. My command just wasn't where I wanted it to be,” Fulmer said. “Going through a delivery change and really buying into the system, I worked extremely hard every day to master that, and I got away from what got me here in the first place.
“I need to keep things simple. I have a lot of video I've been able to [watch] with Oscar and just a few conversations that we had. I think that we have a really good understanding, and I think we're kind of on the same page. So I think there's going to be a lot to gain here.”
Fulmer, 26, struggled in seven appearances with the Tigers this season before being designated for assignment on Aug. 20. He cleared the necessary COVID-19 intake screening and joined the Pirates in Milwaukee on Friday night.