PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. –Right-hander Kyle McPherson had a huge 2011 season in the minor leagues with a list of accomplishments to prove it. The 24 year old right hander was named the Pirates Minor League Pitcher-of-the-Year as well as being named the Double-A Altoona Curve Pitcher of the Year.
McPherson went a combined 12-6 with a 2.96 ERA with 142 strikeouts in 28 starts between High-A Bradenton and Double-A Altoona in 2011.
The right-hander finished with an organization leading 142 strikeouts, which was most by a Pirates minor leaguer since 2006. McPherson also finished second with 12 wins and third with a 2.96 ERA behind State College Spikes Nicholas Kingham (2.15) and Bradenton Marauders Brett Lorin (2.84). In 16 starts with Altoona, he went 8-5 with a 3.02 ERA, including a 4-1 mark and a 2.60 ERA in his first full month in Double-A in July.
In his second-to-last start with the Marauders, before being promoted to Double-A, McPherson took a no-hitter into the 9th inning before allowing his only hit — a one-out home run to Sean McGraw. He finished with a complete game, the first nine-inning complete game in Bradenton Marauders history.
Following the All-Star break, he was tied for second among Double-A pitchers with six wins and did not allow a run in a combined 10.0 innings in his final two starts.
And all of that wasn’t impressive enough, McPherson is slated to start the season at Triple-A Indianapolis, and it might not be too long before he’s pitching in Pittsburgh.
“That’s up to them,” McPherson said. “That’s their decision. I’m just putting in the work now, and the preparation to be that next guy to go to Pittsburgh. It’s a huge step. It’s definitely something I’m looking forward to, having that opportunity to do so. I want to get up there to where I can help make a difference in this organization.”
“Kyle is a guy that we like a lot,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “We put him on the [40-man] roster a couple years ago and a lot of people were surprised by that. It was what we’ve seen and believed he could become. He’s certainly in process of becoming that. He projects to go to Triple-A in the rotation. Hopefully continued growth. He pounds the strike zone. He’s got good stuff. He’s fearless and positions himself to be help for us at some point this season.”
McPherson, who is scheduled to pitch against the Phillies on Monday at McKechnie Field, is in his second big league spring training this year.
“It’s special,” the right-hander said of the experience. “It’s something that I truly honor. It’s great having the opportunity to wakeup and show up to the field, working out alongside these guys, especially the veteran guys. I see how they go about their day and how they prepare for a season.”
“This offseason I just really focused on showing up to spring training healthy,” McPherson said. “Once I got to spring training I was focusing on downward plane on the fastball and quality strikes. You just go out there and compete. I take the experience that I gained from spring training, and I carry that over through the season. I had the experience last year in big league spring training. I think it helped throughout the year, and I want to do the same thing this year. I really want to put myself in that position to be that next guy. ”
Bullpen Competition Heating Up
In Sunday’s 4-3 loss to the Rays at Charlotte Sport Park, left-hander Justin Wilson, Daniel Moskos and right-handers Jared Hughes and Bryan Morris made appearances from the bullpen. Of the four relievers, only Wilson didn’t toss a scoreless outing. All four will be competing for a spot in the Pirates ‘pen this spring.
“We’re evaluating every time we get between the white lines,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “As you look at Justin, you see the things you want to see. Consistency is going to be the next step for him. You saw some quick punch outs, some dynamite sliders, alive fastballs, then you saw some walks. Some balls just getting away from him. He’s got to just continue to work. What makes you a big leaguer and keeps you in the big leagues is consistency and dependability.”
“I like the way that Bryan Morris was able to come in and handle that situation. Hughes I think was able to get himself reset a little bit from the outing in Clearwater. His outing was very effective as well. Justin continues to show a sequence of really good stuff. The command is still challenging right now.”
Will there be two lefties in the ‘pen?
Left-hander Tony Watson looks to be a lock in the Pirates bullpen heading into the 2012 season. But will Hurdle go with a second lefty, or the best seven relievers?
“I’d love to have two, just the way the league sets up,” Hurdle said on having two lefties. “To have one maybe early in a key situation. The sixth inning to get a [Cincinnati Reds’ Joey] Votto with the bases loaded or your starters out of gas or he’s hit a pitch limit. I’d love to have two, but we’re going to take the seven best guys that we think will set up our ‘pen. We’re not just going to stick left-handers out there just to have left-handers. We’ve got some right-handers, and I’ve had some bullpens that didn’t have a left-hander and we were very efficient. There’s bullpen’s that you saw last year that didn’t have left-handers, and their right-handers were able to handle that based on the pitches that they have. We’re open minded.”
Speed and Power
Despite losing to the Tampa Bay Rays 4-3 on Sunday, the Pirates showed both speed and power in the game. Pedro Alvarez and Jake Fox both crushed solo-home runs to left field, and Alex Presley showed speed on the bases. Hurdle said that is the kind of mix you can expect to see from the club this season.
“Speeds got to show up everyday,” he said. “The are continually reminded of that. Speed can keep you out of a slump. Infield hits, legging balls out, those free 90’s we continue to talk about, the extra base, the speeds got to show up. I do think there is more useable power. We didn’t tap into Pedro’s last year. We really didn’t tap into Jones’. We added [Casey] McGehee. [Andrew] McCutchen hit some homers, but there’s more hitabilty. There’s not a doubt in my mind. Then you put [Neil] Walker into play. You got the two guys that can run on the corners and I think every once in a while, they’ll surprise you. Then you got [Clint] Barmes and [Rod] Barajas. They both once hit 17 home runs, 19 home runs in a season. Then the other guys got more home runs for a catcher than anybody in the game right now for the last two or three years. I do think there could be more power, but the speeds got to play.”
- Neil Walker returned to the lineup today in his first game since being scratched from the lineup with low back tightness four days ago. Walker went hitless in three at-bats over six innings at second base.
“We’ll see how he feels tomorrow,” Hurdle said. “If he feels good enough tomorrow then we’ll get him out there again.”
- Right-hander Charlie Morton will make his Grapefruit League debut on Monday at 1:05 against the Philadelphia Phillies at McKechnie Field.
“We talked about kicking the training wheels off him now and getting him out there against a team with another uniform,” Hurdle said. “He’s looking forward to it as well.”
- Catcher Rod Barajas returned to San Diego on Monday night to be with his wife Stacie for the birth of their seventh child. Barajas is expected to return to Bradenton on Wednesday night and scheduled to return to the lineup on Friday.
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