As Pirates Address Playoff Roster, Justin Wilson Could be Second Lefty from ‘Pen

The Pirates organization have had the beginning conversations of the players they are considering on bringing up for September callups. Although this year, Pittsburgh has to also have conversations on a possible playoff roster as well.

If the Pirates stay in contention — they are currently 6.0 games back in the National League Central Division and  have a 0.5 game lead for the second Wild Card spot — they will have to set their 25-man playoff roster by the last day of August on the 31st. They also have the opportunity to bring up some prospects from Triple-A the next day on September 1st. The experience for the young players is not only valuable, but helps them get their feet wet for the first time in their professional career. It also allows Pittsburgh to recall some other players that perhaps were in the Majors at some point, but were demoted to due to struggles.

“You just pay attention to what the season’s telling you,” skipper Clint Hurdle said. “What the areas are showing you, where you show up. Where you feel like you’re comfortable, where you feel like you’ve got some depth, where you might want to explore adding depth. You want to make sure that anybody that would be called up prior to that, to give an opportunity to set your playoff roster as somebody that could help make a difference.”

“Then there’s guys that you’ll bring up afterwards that can just and to that picture. Whether it be matching up out of the bullpen, whether it be bringing up that third catcher….Whether you add another bat to the bench from the left side, or the right side. How many are you looking to add where it’s not confusing, but it’s all supplemental and it adds depth, and it adds strength. Just touch and feel.”

The challenge they face is balancing the rosters and getting the right fits as it could be an exciting season down the stretch. Also, the way that Indianapolis is playing adds a twist. They currently have a 10 game lead in their division, so calling up too many players too soon until their season and postseason ends could hurt their club as well.

“It is a challenge,” General Manager Neal Huntington said. “I’ve been with another organization where we raided the Triple-A team as it was headed to the postseason and then the guys came up and didn’t play very much. Then I’ve been in an organization where we didn’t bring up many guys and it seemed like we needed a different guy every night than the ones we brought up. It is a challenge. You want to be respectful of what Indianapolis is doing, and what they’ve done, but at the same time you want to make sure you put yourself in a position to win here in Pittsburgh.”

“We’ve had the beginning conversations. What does Clint think he needs to add to his club, a left-hander for example. Most clubs bring up another catcher, so you’ve got some ability to pinch run or pinch hit. Where do we fill from there? Do we have the piece internally? Do we look externally? It is a delicate balance, but we’ve got to make sure we give Clint Hurdle the [players] needed to win September all the way through the end of the season because we’ve got the ability to add to the roster.”

An additional left-hander is what the club was looking for prior to the trade deadline. For the majority of the season, Tony Watson has been the lone southpaw in the bullpen. At the Triple-A level, the team has just one left-handed reliever, Doug Slaten, who posted a decent ERA in his several appearances with Pittsburgh this season, but walked a lot of batters. That’s the reason that Huntington said they are in the process of turning Justin Wilson into a reliever.

The move however, isn’t permanent and is to help the club down the stretch. Huntington said the organization is committed to Wilson being a starter at the Major League level. Wilson has posted a 3.88 ERA over 125.1 innings this season with 126 strikeouts.

“We looked aggressively during the trade deadline period,” Huntington said. “Guys that we liked, some weren’t available, some the returns were too much in terms of prospect cost. Whether it was rental or a guy with multiple years of control, so ultimately we looked internally.”

Wilson has some experience in relief. He was moved into the bullpen towards the end of the 2011 season and tossed 13.1 innings. While in that role, Wilson touched the upper 90’s, making him very effective from the left-side. The 24-year-old has held left-handed bats to just a .131 average this season while posting just a 2.08 ERA over 39.0 innings.

“Justin has more than enough stuff to pitch effectively in that role,” Huntington said. “And in a perfect world, we don’t want to bring a guy to the big leagues and have him do something that he hasn’t done before. Justin had nine relief appearances a year ago, but if I remember correctly, didn’t come into the inning in the middle of the inning, never went back-to-back days.”

“The idea was, let’s get him some mid-inning appearances, let’s get him some back-to-back appearances and see how he adjusts to it, see how it adapts so we’re not asking him to do something for the first time at the Major League level. The idea to move Justin to the bullpen was more of trying to find that second left-hander for our team.”

Wilson has yet to be moved into relief, but could see that role soon. With Jeff Locke currently to the Majors pitching in long relief, Wilson needed to stay in the rotation for at least a turn. He responded with a no-hitter (eight innings shortened due to the rain) and was perfect through his first 6.1 innings. It marked the second time he was a part of a no-hitter.

“Maybe we will challenge him every single time,” Huntington said joking. “It was a great opportunity for Justin. He started because Jeff Locke was up here and we stretched him a little bit with some moves in and out, so Justin stayed in the rotation because he had been stretched out and was able to do it. And he had a great outing. He commanded his fastball as well as he commanded it all year. The velocity was down a tick, but he was aggressive down the zone and made a pretty solid hitting team not get any hits.”

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Slight typo in there. As of this very moment the Pirates have a 1 game lead on the wild card. The Dodgers passed the Giants so are currently in sole possession of the NL West lead which leaves the Giants as the chasing team one game behind. Minor detail but worth noting.

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