Pirates Notebook: Wilson to Start or Relieve?

SARASOTA, Fla. — There are questions regarding left-hander Justin Wilson this spring. Should he be a reliever or a starter? Does he make the club in the Pirates bullpen as another lefty, or will he start the season in Triple-A Indianapolis?

“Truth be told, his success is going to depend on his command,” Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington said.

After starting the 2011 season in the Indians starting rotation, Wilson posted a 4.24 ERA over 21 starts (110.1 innings). In August, Wilson was moved into the bullpen, where he stayed the remainder of the season posting a 3.21 ERA over nine appearances. While in the bullpen, Wilson saw his velocity reach several ticks higher than his average 94-95 mph fastball.

“The velocity spiked out of the bullpen,” Huntington said. “If he commands his fastball, he has a chance to be a successful starter or reliever. If we send him back to Triple-A, then that’s a question we’ll answer as we get to the process. How do we best develop the breaking ball? The consistency of it? How do we best develop that command? Does he get that consistency pitching out of the bullpen? Is it better to send him back down and start him and have the side, the multiple innings, multiple times out?”

“It’s that age old question — what’s the best way to develop a guy? We’ve still got some development left. It’s a great arm…We really haven’t answered it yet. Right now we’re still focused on, does he make the club out of the bullpen? Once we answer that question as a yes, then in our bullpen, if no, then we tackle the starter [vs.] reliever [role]. At what point does he come out of camp? Is he stretched out enough to be able to go to Triple-A to start? How do we get him stretched out if we decide to start him again? Those are all variables that we got to work through.”

In Wilson’s first relief outing this spring, he was impressive. After issuing a four pitch walk to start, Wilson settled down by striking out three of his next five batters. Overall, Wilson tossed two hitless innings, with no runs.

Wilson followed that performance with two rather shaky outings.

On Thursday, Wilson was pulled after just two-thirds of an inning, allowing a run on a hit with three walks. His command issues continued on Sunday when he gave up two runs (one earned) on four hits with two walks and two strikeouts over 2.0 innings.

“As you look at Justin, you see the things you want to see,” Pirates Manager Clint Hurdle said. “Consistency is going to be the next step for him. You saw some quick punch outs, some dynamite sliders, live 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.”

“Justin continues to show a sequence of really good stuff,” Huntington said. “But the command is still challenging right now.”

Bench Spot Heating Up

Heading into the season, the bench job is still anyone’s job to win. Players such as Matt Hague, Josh Harrison, Jake Fox, Nick Evans, Yamaico Navarro are battling for the shot to break camp with Pittsburgh. So far this spring, Hurdle said he is pleased with the bench.

“I’m very optimistic our bench is going to have more experience and we’re going to be versatile and we’re going to be better than what we were able to have at any point in time last year,” Hurdle said.

McPherson to throw a bullpen

Right-hander Kyle McPherson was scratched from his scheduled outing on Monday against the Phillies with ‘dead arm-like symptoms’. The 24-year-old said this morning that he was fine. McPherson will throw a bullpen today at Pirate City and will determine his next step after how he feels.

Hurdle said after the Pirates 11-5 win over the Baltimore Orioles on Wednesday that McPherson, along with righty Brad Lincoln (right calf tightness) are healthy.

“They’re both back and on schedule to be pitching,” Hurdle said. “Both deemed healthy and ready to go.”

It’s a girl

Catcher Rod Barajas’ wife Stacie gave birth to their seventh child at 7:11 PM on Tuesday night. The baby girl was named Starlette. Barajas is scheduled to arrive back in Bradenton on Wednesday night, work out on Thursday and is scheduled to return to the lineup on Friday against the Phillies.

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  • leadoff

    IMO, Wilson needs more work at AAA, I totally agree with Huntington and Hurdle on this one, he has to have more consistency. If the Pirates were hurting for more bullpen help it might be different, but they have enough bullpen candidates that they can afford to give Wilson more time in the minors to develop.

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