Two weeks ago, Tony Watson came over to minor league camp to get some work in. That’s not uncommon, since the Pirates send a lot of their established pitchers over to minor league camp to get innings. This allows the Major League coaching staff to get a closer look at the guys battling for roster spots, while still allowing guys like Watson to get their innings and get ready for the season.
On this day, Watson threw two innings, which I didn’t think much of. Watson has gone multiple innings in the past in the majors, so I chalked this up to him getting ready for the season and getting ready for the possibility of multiple innings at some point. A few days later I noticed the same thing from Justin Wilson, and I had the same thought since Wilson is a former starter who can go multiple innings.
Then I saw Jason Grilli throw two innings, which was unexpected. Mark Melancon threw two innings in his trip to Pirate City on Thursday. And Watson made a second trip to Pirate City this past week, going three innings this time around.
I talked with Pirates’ pitching coach Ray Searage about this approach, and found that it wasn’t new. The Pirates have their relievers going multiple innings during Spring Training to build up arm strength. Perhaps I just noticed it more this year because their established major leaguers are going over to Pirate City more frequently.
“Get them some more pitches. Get them up and downs — two up and downs, three up and downs,” Searage said about the focus on the multi-inning approach. “So this way it won’t be a shock to the system when the season starts. The biggest thing is the heat up, the cool down, the heat up, the cool down.”
The focus here is primarily about building arm strength, but also to get everyone prepared for multiple innings. In most of these outings, like Watson’s three inning appearance, the relievers are throwing primarily fastballs. Having relievers throw multiple innings at Pirate City is a good approach. Minor league Spring Training games are more relaxed. Players have specific pitch counts, and if they reach that pitch count, the inning gets rolled and the pitcher can go out and pitch the next inning. This allows the pitchers to focus on innings and pitch count, without having to worry about getting bounced from the game early due to a long inning.
“We just want to make sure everyone is prepared for [multiple innings],” Searage said. “We’re not really trying to look for that, but be prepared if it is a necessity.”
Watson seems like one of the most likely to go multiple innings, especially since he’s going beyond the two inning mark in camp. That’s not a surprise, since Watson had 17 appearances last year where he threw more than one inning. He also had eight appearances with two innings or more, and two appearances with three innings (both involving extra innings).
“We just want to make sure it’s not a shock to their system,” Searage said.