Brandon Cumpton has seen a great deal of success this season as a starting pitcher. However, with the need in Pittsburgh down the stretch in relief, Cumpton appears to be making this switch.
On Sunday, Cumpton made only his seventh relief appearance of his professional career – six in the minors and one with the Pirates. In the outing, Cumpton allowed a pair of hits and struck out one, while tossing a scoreless ninth inning.
With Indianapolis for the season, Cumpton has posted a 3.03 ERA in 12 games. In 71.1 innings, he has allowed 69 hits and walked 20. Over the span, he has struck out 37. In 10 starts with the Pirates, he has a 4.98 ERA. However, the ERA is heavily inflated by a start in Los Angeles, where he allowed 11 runs, 10 earned, in 3.2 innings. Other than that, Cumpton has not allowed over four runs in any outing and boasts of seven outings with less than three runs crossing the plate.
Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington listed Mark Melancon and Tony Watson as “entrenched” in the bullpen and said Justin Wilson “has shown signs that he can be Justin Wilson again.” He also stated that Jared Hughes has thrown the ball well. However past that, they are looking for another reliable option.
“[Cumpton] just gives Clint a versatile option,” Huntington said. “A guy that can go multiple innings if we end up on the wrong side of the score early in a game. He can come in and get a ground ball, if we need to. He can pitch in mid to low leverage situations, or he can come into the middle of a game and try to keep us ahead if we have an injury or keep the deficit where it is and allow us to battle back.”
Though Cumpton is getting some work in the bullpen, Huntington acknowledges that he is not the only option, while making sure that he is prepared is paramount.
“We want to make sure that we are fair to him and put him in a situation where he can be successful,” Huntington said. “And not pitching for 10, 12, 14 days and trying to come up and throw strikes out of the bullpen at the big league level may not be in his best interests. Fortunately, we’ve got some other guys down there that we feel comfortable that they can come up here and do that if we need them to.”
Prior to the relief appearance, Cumpton had been roughed up a bit in his three previous starts. He allowed 15 earned runs on 23 hits in 16.3 innings. However, in the final of the three stars, Indianapolis manager Dean Treanor saw some signs.
“He has had his spells here, but after this last [start], I shot a message to Clint that ‘he looked like Cumpton,’” Treanor said. “I thought that his last start was very, very good…I expect that to keep going. He has done a nice job for them. That is several times over the last two years of up and back. That’s not an easy thing to go through each time.”
Cumpton credits the positive outing with some work that was done during a prior side session in between starts.
“Everything feels good,” Cumpton said. “We have made some mechanical adjustments and stuff working in the bullpen [on off days]. I feel like I carried it over into the last [start]. I am pretty happy about moving in the right direction right now.”
He thinks that this work allows him to put more emphasis on getting ahead of hitters and putting them away, a topic that he has been struggling with since coming back to Indianapolis.
“[I am working on] getting back to my strengths and sticking with them,” Cumpton said. “I am just attacking hitters and getting ahead of guys. I have been falling behind guys and giving up 0-2 hits, stuff like that. Stuff that’s not me. I am just getting back to my strengths.”
After the sideways outing in Los Angeles, Cumpton rebounded by allowing 10 runs on 29 hits in 30.1 innings before being optioned back to Indianapolis. He was pleased with all of the positive, but also took the negative in stride as well.
“It was good and I am glad that I went through all of it, even getting beat up on the west coast,” Cumpton said. “It proved to myself that I can handle a whooping and then have some nice outings after that. I am pretty happy that I was able to rebound from that and it is something to learn from to keep moving forward.”
With the arsenal that he is working with, Cumpton is also continuing to work the changeup in more. This allows him to keep hitters off-balance on the sinking fastball, which sits between 92 and 94.
“I feel like the sinker is coming back,” Cumpton said. “I am throwing a lot more changeups than I have in the last few years. It is still a pitch that I am developing, but I am pretty happy with where things are right now.”
While his possible role in the bullpen is uncertain, Cumpton seems to fit the middle and long relief role well, with his ability to get the ground ball. However, this picture is made murkier with the stock already in the Pirates bullpen, which already contains a pair of long relief options. Casey Sadler is one of those options, getting the call yesterday. Either way, Cumpton will come up after September 1st and will see time coming out of the bullpen with the Pirates, barring any injuries to the rotation.