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Pirates may not be done using opener strategy

@oapostrophesd
May 19, 2019

SAN DIEGO -- The Pirates used an “opener” on the mound on Saturday for the first time. It likely won’t be the last. In fact, the Bucs could again turn to the strategy of using a reliever in a starting role for an inning or two as soon as Wednesday,

SAN DIEGO -- The Pirates used an “opener” on the mound on Saturday for the first time. It likely won’t be the last.

In fact, the Bucs could again turn to the strategy of using a reliever in a starting role for an inning or two as soon as Wednesday, when they face the Rockies at PNC Park. Pittsburgh currently isn't listing a probable pitcher for that game.

“There’s some intrigue to it, for sure,” manager Clint Hurdle said.

The Pirates' starting rotation has been beset by injuries. Trevor Williams and Jameson Taillon are on the injured list, and Chris Archer was recently activated from the IL. Left-hander Steven Brault and right-hander Nick Kingham didn’t provide the results the club hoped for when they each made two spot starts.

So Montana DuRapau got the nod on Saturday as the opener despite only four Major League relief appearances to his credit. He went two scoreless innings and yielded just one hit and one walk with four strikeouts in the Bucs' 7-2 win. And Wednesday likely will depend on who’s ready to go from the relief corps. In this series against the Padres, Hurdle chose to use his bullpen as he would normally and not set aside a reliever for the opener duty. He didn’t tab DuRapau until after Friday’s game, just in case he used DuRapau in relief that night.

“We gave both our guys a couple starts,” Hurdle said of Brault and Kingham. “We want to see what the results might be by attacking it this way now, just to see where we go and have some type of reference moving forward. There’s a chance two of our guys might be out an extended period of time.”

Pirates developing two-way players
JB Shuck, who spent time as an outfielder with the Pirates this season before being assigned to Triple-A Indianapolis this month, has started throwing bullpen sessions with the thought of becoming a two-way player, farm director Larry Broadway said via email.

“At this point in his career, he wants to do whatever he can to add value to a Major League team,” Broadway noted. “This gives him another way to impact an Major League roster. He will likely be in a game sometime in the next 10 days or so.”

Shuck, 31, pitched more than 200 collegiate innings for Ohio State. He pitched an inning in a blowout loss on April 22 against the D-backs and he impressed by throwing strikes with good arm strength, Broadway said. He has a .243 career batting average in 460 big league games.

Shuck isn’t the only player the Pirates are testing as a two-way player. Alfredo Reyes, a 25-year-old utility player at Double-A Altoona, is also giving it a go and is on the same timetable as Shuck, Broadway said.

Worth noting
• Catcher Francisco Cervelli, saddled with a .179 batting average and .505 OPS, has not started any of the first three games of the series at Petco Park. Elias Diaz has gotten the nod in each game.

• Hurdle used closer Felipe Vazquez in a non-save situation on Friday. Vazquez came in for the ninth inning with a 5-1 lead and he gave up a two-run home run to Ty France. Vazquez would not have been used with a five-run lead, Hurdle said, but Vazquez was up and throwing so it made sense to use him with a four-run lead after the Pirates scored twice in the top of the ninth to erase the save opportunity.

“There are some games you just don’t want to get away,” Hurdle said, noting that Vazquez was available to pitch a third straight day on Saturday.

Shaun O'Neill is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in San Diego. Follow him on Twitter @oapostrophesd.