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Brault sings, finds his way vs. Tigers

Vazquez filthy in relief; Liriano in control with quick frame
@adamdberry
March 19, 2019

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Steven Brault and Nick Kingham have been roommates all spring, but they’ve mostly avoided conversations about the spot they’re both trying to secure in Pittsburgh’s rotation. They finally talked about it on Monday night, after Kingham threw five shutout innings against the Rays, and before Brault put

BRADENTON, Fla. -- Steven Brault and Nick Kingham have been roommates all spring, but they’ve mostly avoided conversations about the spot they’re both trying to secure in Pittsburgh’s rotation.

They finally talked about it on Monday night, after Kingham threw five shutout innings against the Rays, and before Brault put together 3 2/3 scoreless innings in the Pirates’ 3-1 win over the Tigers on Tuesday at LECOM Park.

Pittsburgh is getting closer to making a decision in the final week of Spring Training, so that might ratchet up the nervousness for Brault, Kingham and presumptive favorite Jordan Lyles. Fortunately, Brault and Kingham don’t have to go far to find someone who understands the situation.

“It hasn’t been an easy spring. It’s been a little stressful,” Brault said. “We’ve both had good outings. We’ve had bad outings. We’re both working for something. You don’t want to hold it against the other person, but sometimes, it’s like, ‘Ah! King went five scoreless yesterday. I have to come out and get four scoreless today.’ It’s good, healthy competition.”

Brault held up his end of the bargain on Tuesday, overcoming a rough first inning in which he reverted to his old mechanics. Detroit loaded the bases on two walks and a single, which brought pitching coach Ray Searage out of the dugout. According to Brault, Searage informed the lefty he was pitching like he had a “stick up his [butt],” and encouraged the former vocal performance major to relax by singing a song.

“So I started singing, and the next three innings, what do you know,” Brault said. “The next three innings are where I want to be, so it was good.”

Brault and Kingham have been inconsistent this spring. When they’ve struggled, it’s gotten ugly. When they’ve been on, it’s been excellent. Meanwhile, Lyles has given up 13 hits and five walks while striking out seven in 11 innings; his last outing was a four-inning simulated game following a short bout with cramping in his right side.

One of the three will round out the Pirates’ rotation. At least one of them could wind up in Pittsburgh’s bullpen. Brault is the only one who can be optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis to start the season.

“You think about it a lot. Anybody who says they’re not thinking about it, or not stressing or concerned, they’re lying. It’s on my mind,” said Kingham, who is out of Minor League options. “But whatever happens, happens. It’s not like I can go back, storm in there and say, ‘No! Give me that position! You’re wrong!’ I’m going to take it, deal with it, roll with the punches and move forward.”

They should soon learn where that takes them.

“Their intent, the focus has been good. The execution is always going to be what separates people. Consistency is what you want to get and hope to get,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “I like the fact that everybody’s gone out there and gotten ample opportunity. We’re coming closer and closer to decision-making time, and we’ll have a decision when we need to make one.”

Around the horn

• The Pirates’ back-end bullpen duo looked ready to go on Tuesday. Closer Felipe Vazquez retired all four hitters he faced, struck out the side in the fifth inning and hit 101 mph on the LECOM Park radar gun. The lefty has allowed one hit and no walks while striking out nine batters in 4 1/3 innings this spring.

“It’s as sharp as I’ve ever seen any reliever,” Hurdle said. “I don’t know what that means going into the season. However, all the things that we challenged him with walking out the door, he’s answered.”

• Setup man Keone Kela followed Vazquez with a perfect sixth inning that concluded with a strikeout. Kela and Vazquez are scheduled to pitch in a Minor League game on Wednesday, their first time working on back-to-back days this spring.

• Left-hander Francisco Liriano, competing for a spot in the Opening Day bullpen, needed only 10 pitches to work a clean seventh inning. It was another step forward for Liriano, who has been sharper since walking all four batters he faced against the Yankees on March 10.

“He wants to pitch. He wants to take the ball. He’s going to be ready,” Hurdle said. “I think we showed him something after that game in Tampa that was beneficial and could be beneficial for him moving forward. Better command again today.”

• The Pirates got another look at most of their likely Opening Day lineup, and eight of their starters -- everyone but catcher Francisco Cervelli -- played the entire game. Adam Frazier led the way from the leadoff spot, going 2-for-4 and bringing his spring average to .360. Corey Dickerson and Josh Bell also finished with two hits apiece.

Up next

Right-hander Joe Musgrove will make his second official start of the spring on Wednesday as the Pirates take on the Twins at Hammond Stadium in Fort Myers. Musgrove allowed two runs and struck out five over four innings on Friday. Right-handers Nick Burdi, Michael Feliz, Clay Holmes and Brandon Maurer, all candidates to make the Opening Day bullpen, are also scheduled to pitch for Pittsburgh. First pitch is set for 1:05 p.m ET. The game will air exclusively as an audio webcast on MLB.com.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.