Bucs’ bullpen roles still not defined
PITTSBURGH — In an ideal world, relief pitching is as simple as 7-8-9.
One pitcher handles the seventh inning, another pitches the eighth, and the closer takes the ninth.
It isn’t that easy for the Pirates this season, though.
The only stability they’ve had at the end of games is Felipe Vazquez as the closer, and that’s had some major hitches. Vazquez has misfired on four save opportunities.
So what’s a manager to do? Play it by ear and hope that things settle down and pitchers find their spot.
“Everybody would love to be on a routine,” manager Clint Hurdle said before Saturday’s 6-2 win over Cincinnati. “Sometimes that works. Sometimes it doesn’t work. Sometimes performance issues come into play where other people need to touch the ball before someone else does because of performance.”
The Pirates didn’t need Vazquez on Saturday. Ivan Nova pitched the first six innings, allowing one run. Steven Brault worked two scoreless innings, then Michael Feliz finished, allowing a solo home run in his inning.
The goal remains the same — “Get the ball to Vazquez,” Hurdle said.
How they get to the ninth inning and the closer continues to be a work in progress, as the halfway mark of the season approaches.
“There are no proclamations going out on the sixth inning guy, the seventh inning guy,” Hurdle said.
Speaking of relievers, right-hander Richard Rodriguez pitched a simulated game early Saturday afternoon.
Rodriguez, who is on the disabled list because of inflammation in his right shoulder, threw 20 pitches.
“I had no problems,” Rodriguez said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez.
Hurdle said, “Richard looked good. He looked healthy. He looked strong. (He threw) two-seam fastballs, four-seam fastballs, some breaking balls, some change-ups.”
Rodriguez is eligible to be activated on Monday.
Francisco Cervelli sat out Saturday’s game, just getting a day off.
The Pirates have been monitoring Cervelli since he took a foul ball off his jaw during last week’s series in Arizona.
“He wanted to play today,” Hurdle said. “He wants to play every day. I think we need to be smart with this.”
It’s easier to sit Cervelli occasionally because his back-up, Elias Diaz, is batting .304 and hit his fifth home run on Saturday.
Pirates pitchers have made 11 errors already this season, including Nova’s fifth of the season on Saturday.
Nova was covering first and failed to catch the ball thrown by first baseman Josh Bell.
“I’m having trouble with that play,” Nova said.
The free extra outs are a concern to Hurdle.
“We need to be cleaner on defense,” Hurdle said. “We’ve worked on pitcher’s fielding practice more than we ever have. (Nova) made a good play on the first comebacker.
“That (error) play, at times it’s maddening because you work on it. It’s maddening to them, too. You put yourself in a precarious position. We need to tighten up. There’s no getting around it.”
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