Pirates Notebook: Watson Focusing on Consistency

TAMPA, Fla. — Left-hander Tony Watson spent the offseason focused on consistency. After making his Major League debut with the Pirates on June 8 against Arizona last season, Watson finished with a 3.95 ERA over 43 appearances (41.0 innings). But his ERA jumped up and down over his four months in Pittsburgh.

Watson worked hard over the offseason in order to improve upon that.

“Just consistency,” Watson said of his offseason focus. “Consistency with the delivery. Consistency with the pitches. If the delivery is consistent, everything’s consistent. Then the pitches will be consistent. That was a big thing for me. Just continuing to be consistent with everything.”

Watson was impressive in his Major League debut in 2011 against the Diamondbacks, coming into a high leverage situation. Watson replaced reliever Jose Veras in the 8th inning with two runners on base and just one out. But the left-hander handled it like a seasoned veteran, striking out both batters he faced to end the inning with the Bucco lead intact.

Situations like that, and many others he was called upon for last season, helped Watson gain experience and improve heading into the new season.

“You always learn in this game from other guys, from experiences you have out there on the mound, situations you’re in,” Watson said. “Just to be out there in situations that I was in last year, taking little things from each situation and carrying it over to each outing and into this year. I think that will be huge.”

So far this spring, Watson has allowed six runs on nine hits over five appearances (6.0 innings) with one walk and two strikeouts. Spring training stats for pitchers are hard to read into. Watson said himself that he’s been working on different things each outing to the mound.

“Results-wise no,” Watson said of his overall performance during the Grapefruit League. “I’ve been kind of up and down. Not really looking for what I want personally. In the grand scheme of things, I feel like I’ve been making some good pitches. Working on some things. It’s starting to all come together full circle.”

“There’s some timing things that everybody goes through. Mechanically, I’ve been working on some new pitches. Just trying to feel some things out. See what works for me, and what doesn’t. Then go from there. The main thing is just going out there and competing and getting back into the swing of things.”

Last season with the club, Watson proved how valuable his versatility was. Hurdle called upon him in high-leverage, long relief, situational — and he handled it well. How he will be used out of the bullpen for the season is still undetermined until the ‘pen shapes up during the final weeks of the spring. But no matter the situation, Watson said you always have to be ready when the phone rings.

“You want to be dependable anytime he phone’s down there, and be ready to go in any situations,” Watson said. “I just try to keep my body, keep my arm in shape as best I can. If you’re out there for three or four innings, or just one out, whatever it may be, you just got to always be out there, be dependable and be durable. Whenever the phone rings, you got to be ready to go.”

Reyes Still Working on Adjustment

During this spring, lefty Jo-Jo Reyes made an adjustment to his arm slot in order to be more consistent and be able to repeat his delivery. During his last outing, Reyes said he still was not yet comfortable with the new adjustment.

In the Pirates 10-3 loss to the Yankees, Reyes faced five straight batters without recording an out.

“We’re still trying to find a way to help him be more consistent, repeat his delivery and throwing more strikes,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “That’s been the challenge…He was unable to get in front of counts and get outs. Five hitters in that inning without getting an out. Just got work to do.”

Iggy Battling for Spot in ‘Pen

Right-hander Ryota Igarashi started the Grapefruit League this spring with back-to-back scoreless frames. But since has seen some inconsistent outings on the mound. Igarashi, who signed a minor league deal, is battling for a spot in the ‘pen. On Tuesday, Igarashi allowed two runs in his inning of work.

“I don’t see him struggling,” Hurdle said. “I see a guy who’s trying to work and be the best pitcher he can be. When he’s down in the zone he’s very difficult to square up. A couple guys tonight just got the ball elevated. It happens to any pitcher when they get the ball up. You also saw the ball come out of his hands real hot a couple times. He let it go. Velocity was good…We’ve liked what we’ve seen so far. We’re going to keep pushing him out there.”

Flash of Opening Day Lineup

The Pirates lineup tonight against the Yankees could be similar to what you see on Opening Day in Pittsburgh on April 5th. Alex Presley batted leadoff, with Jose Tabata in the two spot with Andrew McCutchen batting third and Neil Walker followed hitting cleanup. The top four in the lineup combined to go 6-for-12 with three runs and three RBI.

“You saw some good things,” Hurdle said. “I don’t think we were as aggressive as we needed to be on fastballs. I think we need to be ready to hit. Obviously we got Pineda’s attention and he seemed to find a slot, start working much quicker, much more effective throwing strikes. We got to counter punch after that.”

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