PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates made a pair of roster moves before Tuesday’s series opener against Cleveland at PNC Park, one they planned on and one they did not.
Pittsburgh recalled right-hander Tyler Bashlor from the alternate training site camp in Altoona, Pa., a little more than two weeks after acquiring the reliever in a minor trade with the Mets. The Pirates had an open spot in their bullpen after optioning right-hander Cody Ponce to their satellite camp on Sunday.
Then, less than an hour before first pitch, the Pirates placed reliver Yacksel Ríos on the 10-day injured list, retroactive to Saturday, due to right shoulder inflammation. To take his spot, the Bucs recalled right-hander Nick Mears, who made his Major League debut on Aug. 8.
The Pirates have already used 25 pitchers this season, second in the Majors to only the Marlins, as injuries have afflicted their rotation and bullpen. When he takes the mound, Bashlor will become No. 26.
The Pirates acquired Bashlor, 27, from the Mets on Aug. 2 in a cash deal. Manager Derek Shelton said he does not yet have a role determined for Bashlor, but the club’s front office is intrigued by the right-hander’s upside after they “identified some pitch traits that he has used and that he has not used [lately] that we’re hoping to be able to enhance.”
In Altoona, Bashlor said he focused on throwing his fastball up in the zone and using his breaking ball off that. He’s also thrown his changeup more, he said.
“I like the Mets. They're a good organization, but I think I was just stuck in a rut there. Wasn't in the best of places,” Bashlor said. “So getting here to Pittsburgh -- smaller city, more my speed. So I'm pretty excited about it."
Bashlor said he only knew a couple players in the Pirates' clubhouse: Cole Tucker and former teammate Phillip Evans. He went for a walk around town with his mother, Pam, on Monday and crossed paths with catcher Jacob Stallings and his family -- a meeting that didn’t register until they saw each other at PNC Park on Tuesday afternoon.
“I was like, 'He kind of looks like a player,' but I wasn't sure,” Bashlor said. “Then he came in today and was like, 'Hey man, I saw you yesterday,’ so it was kind of funny."
Out of rhythm
When the Pirates took the field on Tuesday night, they had played only two games in the previous eight days. They had their series in St. Louis last week postponed due to the Cardinals’ COVID-19 outbreak, and the final two games of their weekend series in Cincinnati were postponed when one Reds player tested positive.
The Pirates were tested three times in the past four days, and Shelton said they were in a “good spot” in that regard. But the disruption to their routine has had an effect on the Bucs.
"It's challenging from both a mental and physical standpoint,” Stallings said. “It's good because you feel like you should be fresh after all these off-days, but you don't want to lose game shape either. Just kind of a catch-22 scenario. I would say it's probably more challenging mentally.”
On Saturday, the Pirates remained isolated in their downtown Cincinnati hotel rooms, permitted to leave only to take outdoor walks and pick up to-go food orders. Stallings said he sat around all day playing "Fortnite" with Chad Kuhl, Chris Stratton and Jameson Taillon. On Sunday, they faced the prospect of playing a doubleheader against the Reds on Monday, less than 72 hours after they learned of the Reds’ positive test, then wound up working out at Great American Ball Park before flying home.
“Sunday morning was pretty stressful, because we were trying to figure out what we wanted to do as a team,” Stallings said. “Obviously, guys want to play, but I think the overwhelming sentiment was that we can make those games up later and we don't want to end up playing one day and costing ourselves two weeks of games if something were to happen."
Shelton said he’s pleased with how the Pirates have handled the uncertainty, but the down time has created challenges for the coaching staff as they attempt to evaluate all their players, get some on track and keep others sharp. Now, they’re looking at 42 scheduled games over the final 41 days of the season.
“On the pitching side, we’ve had a bunch of guys that haven’t touched the rubber. Then, you get in game situations and you ask them to execute pitches, and it’s a little challenging for them,” Shelton said. “Then, timing [for hitters] becomes an issue. As we’ve talked about before, we have some guys who were having timing issues even when we were consistently getting at-bats, so it becomes even more challenging for us, and it’s something we have to work through.”