Pirates Move Lefty Justin Wilson to the Bullpen

Manager Clint Hurdle said on Tuesday afternoon that the organization has decided to move left-handed starter Justin Wilson into the bullpen.

“We are right now transferring Justin Wilson into the bullpen for maybe an opportunity to be more impactful at the Major League level,” Hurdle said.

Wilson has had mixed results with Triple-A Indianapolis this season. Over 23 starts so far, he has posted a 4.14 ERA, holding the opposing teams to just a .197 average and giving up just 83 hits over 117.1 innings. His biggest struggle has been his control. He’s walked 63 batters and racked up 121 strikeouts.

Wilson is coming off a start on Saturday where he allowed three runs on two hits and three walks over 3.2 innings. Over his last 10 starts combined, Wilson has walked 30 batters with 53 strikes over 48.2 innings.

“Command is his calling card,” Hurdle said. “That has been the one challenge for Justin moving forward. Whether it’s been starting, whether it’s been the bullpen. He’s the kind of kid that if that part of his game can be put under control, it could be special.”

Wilson has shown flashes of impressive starts this year. He tossed a combined no-hitter with Triple-A and also picked up International League Pitcher of the Week awards twice this season.

The left-hander started the 2011 season in the rotation, but after struggling, was moved into the bullpen towards the end of the season. In relief, Wilson was throwing high 90’s with his fastball raising eyes that perhaps that would be his calling with the club. Wilson posted a 3.38 ERA in relief, while a 4.22 as a starter.

“Initially it did last year when they first moved him,” Hurdle said of his high velocity spike. “More often than not you see that. You saw it with Brad Lincoln. You saw him go through a number of starts through spring training, his velocity was what it was. Then you put them in that one inning role and they know they only got to fire for one inning.”

“They just let it eat. They’re not holding anything back, they’re not figuring to get through five, or 100 pitches under their belt. It did spike towards the backend of the 90’s. We’ll see where it goes this time.”

Moving Wilson into the bullpen gives the Pirates the option to recall him before the season ends to see how he fares in relief in the big leagues. Tony Watson has been the lone lefty in the ‘pen for the majority of the season this year, giving Hurdle the option for two from the left side.

“If you get a left-hander like him with plus-velocity, can maybe give us a different look,” Hurdle said.

Doug Slaten, who is also a left-hander in Triple-A, made 10 appearances in the Majors this season with Pittsburgh, posting a 2.77 ERA. He did however, struggle with a high walk rate issuing eight free passes opposed to six whiffs.

“Slaten continues to do some nice things there,” Hurdle said. “We’re comfortable with the group we have here right now. As you look to get through August, if somebody goes down, you’ve got to have a ‘plan B’, a ‘plan C’. And obviously when you open up the gates in September you can add different looks and different options out of the bullpen to be as chaotic as you can for the other team, and resourceful for yourself.”




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He’s only pitched 117 1/3 innings.


If this is merely a temporary move to potentially give us an internal option as a lefty reliever for the end of the season, then I’m fine with it. If they’ve given up on Wilson as a starter already, then this is a mistake. He’s easily got the best stuff in the organization for a lefty and he’s not so old yet that he can’t continue to improve his control.


In his four seasons with the Pirates, Wilson’s BB/9 are 4.3, 4.5, 4.8, 4.8 in that order. This is on the heels of poor control in college. He’s not a long-term starter, in my opinion, and should be cultivated as a weapon out of the bullpen — think Mike Gonzalez.


Mike isn’t the Gonzalez that comes to mind when pondering whether or not Wilson can make it as a starter. Gio Gonzalez had very similar BB/9 numbers in AAA. 4.5 his first year and 5.0 his second. His hit suppression also took a major step forward in his second go round, just as Wilson’s has. In his rookie season in the majors, it was 5.11. Over the next two years, it stabilized at 4.1. Now, in his fourth major league season, it’s down to 3.5. Gio’s stuff is better than Wilson’s, but not so much so as to render the comparison moot. On the contrary, I think he provides a great example of why it’s too early to write Wilson off as a starter.

Tim Williams

They’re not giving up on him as a starter.


But this seems like a sort of reaction to the Bucs not being to deal for a lefty at the deadline and the fact that a player like Jose Mijares was claimed by the Giants and the Bucs never got a shot at him. I think Neal was probably hoping someone like Mijares would become available to have another lefty bullpen guy but it just hasn’t happened yet. Also, look at the Braves lineup and how left-handed it is, we may need a lefty specialist for a wild card game or playoff matchup against them. Good move. Maybe Wilson can be that guy for the big club this September and hopefully October.

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