With just two days remaining until the August 31 trade waiver claim ends, Manager Clint Hurdle said the focus for the Pittsburgh Pirates down the stretch is internal.
“I think right now as we tier things down, our focus starts in house, and then it moves down from there,” Hurdle said. “[Or] if something that would happen that would grab us. There are guys out everyday on trade waivers, and there are guys still out on option waivers that you look at. You still see a lot of movement in the industry from time to time. You pay attention, you make calls. You see what the ask is. If the ask is uncomfortable, you move on.”
Those in-house guys that Hurdle is taking a look at to help push the Pirates to the playoff surround three talented arms.
“I think we’ve got a number of guys still down below that we have a lot of interest in.” Hurdle said. “We’ll probably look for opportunities to get them the ball just as well. We saw three guys in the last month, short looks in [Justin] Wilson and [Kyle] McPherson, and a little longer look at [Jeff] Locke, that we liked. They all handled themselves well in short snap shots of work.”
Locke could be stepping in to help the club sooner rather than later. The left-hander made his 24th start of the season at Triple-A on Wednesday, but was limited to just 4.2 innings due to a pitch count. Wil Flemming, the Indians broadcaster, tweeted after Locke’s outing that the Pirates were clearly interested in his pitch count. He threw just 73 pitches.
Locke could fill the fifth spot in the rotation likely on Tuesday with the absence of Erik Bedard, who the Pirates released. And Locke has put up numbers worthy of the opportunity. Over 141.2 innings with Triple-A this season, Locke has posted a 2.48 ERA with 131 strikeouts. The rookie also pitched 4.1 scoreless frames allowing just one hit over two outings in relief in the big leagues this season.
“He’s going to be that crafty lefty,” Pirates catcher Rod Barajas said. “He’s not going to over power you. He does have a sneaky fastball that kind of jumps out of his hand. He gets on you pretty late. He’s got a good curveball. The changeup is a pitch that I call, and used a lot. He’s had a lot of success with it. He’s one of those guys that’s going to have to locate his pitches, throw off-speed pitches behind in the count. If he does that he will be fine.”
McPherson, too, could see opportunities to pitch at the big league level. The right-hander could fill in for some spot starts or long outings in relief during the stretch run for the club. McPherson shined in his Major League debut in San Diego. The 24-year-old tossed two scoreless frames allowing one hit while striking out two batters.
After starting the season on the disabled list, a shoulder injury forced McPherson to miss nearly two months of the season. The right-hander battled through rust while with Double-A. But since his promotion to Triple-A, McPherson has shown that he’s ready for the next level. He’s allowed just two earned runs over 18.1 innings (three starts) while striking out 17 batters. Opposing batters have hit just .172 off McPherson while he’s posted just a 0.98 ERA.
“He’s got a great arm first and foremost,” Barajas said. “It’s not just the velocity, it’s the angle of which the ball comes out of his hand. It has that little extra deception. Even if he’s 94, 95, it seems to play a little harder. The curveball was phenomenal. He has a sharp curveball, 12-6, it starts up around the chest area and ends at your ankles. He’s got those two plus pitches.”
“He’s a competitor. He battles out there. He doesn’t shy down. He’s not afraid to pitch inside. He used changeup a little bit his last time out, and got a couple outs with it. I think this kid has that bulldog, fighter mentality. I think he’s not going to fail. He’s going to work harder and harder to prove himself.”
Wilson was recently moved into the bullpen to help provide the Pirates with another lefty arm in the bullpen. The 25-year-old started for most of the season with Triple-A, posting a 3.84 ERA over 131.1 frames. He whiffed 130 during that span, but walked 65. The biggest issue for Wilson has been locating his pitches and throwing strikes. When he has his control, Wilson is unhittable. Literally. The left-hander was a part of two no hitters this season with Triple-A.
Wilson made his Major League debut in San Diego, along with McPherson, and allowed two hits while striking out the side over a frame of relief.
“He’s got a great arm,” Barajas said. “A really good slider. The only question that we have is his ability to throw strikes. In spring training I caught him a few times and he really got himself into some trouble with some walks, but he was able to work out of it because he does have that big arm, that great slider.”
“The fact that he’s pitched as well as he has up here and [in Triple-A], that tells me that maybe he is improving and he has worked on locating his pitches better and cutting the walks down.”
Barajas, who caught all three talented rookies, was impressed with their composure on the bump. Although Locke made his Major League debut last season, the lefty still has limited experience in the bigs. Despite short looks, the veteran catcher liked what he saw from all three of them.
“They all handled themselves the way you like to see,” Barajas said. “You never know what to expect when you have a rookie or a young guy coming out there and pitching for the first time, but the last thing you want to see is fear or nerves, being intimidated. I saw nothing like that from those guys. It seemed like they were excited, they wanted to be out there and they were confident in their abilities.”
Playoff rosters have to be set by Friday, so you can expect at least one, if not all three being added to the Pirates roster. The rosters expand on Saturday for September 1st callups, so their opportunities back in the big leagues aren’t far away.