Not a lot of options for Hurdle

By John Mehno

johnmehno@johnmehnocolumn.com

PITTSBURGH – Closing games isn’t easy. Neither is managing a closer who is struggling.

That’s the position Clint Hurdle found himself in Wednesday, contemplating all his ninth inning options after closer Tony Watson had a brutal meltdown the night before.

Watson was within one strike of preserving a one-run victory when he allowed a game-tying home run to pinch hitter Matt Carpenter. Two subsequent home runs put the game out of reach and sent to the Pirates to their eighth consecutive loss.

It was Watson’s third failed save in 13 opportunities since he inherited the job when Mark Melancon was traded to Washington on June 30.

“I’ve been in the situation before where I’ve done it both ways,” Hurdle said. “Stuck with the guy, and unplugged the guy. Right now, I’m going to take the temperature on the rest of the relievers I have out there and find out who’s available tonight.”

It was unlikely Watson would be used because of the number of pitches he’d thrown in the previous two games. Hurdle said Watson’s issues come from his inability to command his pitches.

“I think this has just been a challenging year for him,” Hurdle said. “He set the bar extremely high. As we set expectations for people and they aren’t met, sometimes they turn into resentments from other people.

“They get frustrated, angry that they’re not getting the right result. I was thinking today that all the years he’s pitched here, I can probably count on one hand the number of times I’ve had to go out in the middle of an inning and take him out of a game.

“He’s set the bar so high, and there have been some different challenges. There have been many guys who have had different challenges than they’ve head in years in the past.”

One of the possible alternatives was not available on Wednesday.

Neftali Feliz, who has closing experience, remained sidelined because of discomfort in his arm that forced him out of a game on Saturday. Feliz has not thrown since then.

Hurdle had said he expected Feliz to be available during the homestand, which runs through Sunday. He said on Wednesday that timetable might not be realistic now.

Elsewhere:

n Catcher Francisco Cervelli returned to the lineup on Wednesday. He had been out because of a thumb injury sustained when he blocked a pitch. The trainers drilled through Cervelli’s thumb nail to relieve the pressure caused by bleeding.

n Gerrit Cole remains on track to start Monday’s game in Philadelphia, trainer Todd Tomczyk said. Cole has been out with shoulder inflammation. He has thrown two bullpen sessions, and is expected to throw once more on the side before Monday.

n Starling Marte was out of the lineup for a second consecutive game because of back spasms.

n Catcher Elias Diaz’s season is over after minor surgery to clean a soft tissue infection from his lower leg. Diaz started this season on the disabled list because of an elbow injury that required surgery.

n As part of the MLB-wide Roberto Clemente Day, many of the Pirates visited a nearby North Side elementary school to distribute supplies to students.

The contingent was headed by Clemente’s widow, Vera, and the couple’s three sons.

“To see Vera still walking the walk and being out front, it puts a smile in your heart,” Hurdle said. “And the three boys – they’re grown men now, but they’re Roberto’s boys. The whole day is special. It’s a wonderful fact that we honor him throughout the game of baseball for all the right reasons.”