Hey, y’all prepare yourself // For the Rubberband man // You never heard a sound // Like the Rubberband man // You’re bound to lose control // When the Rubberband starts to jam
The Spinners’ 1976 song “The Rubber Band Man” would ring from the speakers of Three Rivers Stadium when Kent Tekulve entered for one of his league-most 94 appearances in the Pirates’ 1979 championship season.
While Bryan Morris is certainly not the bullpen ace on Tekulve’s level and is only on pace to pitch about 54 games this year, he has been just as rubber-band flexible in his usage. Over his rookie season, Morris has had seven outings in which he has faced only one or two batters. He has also had 11 appearances where he stayed for multiple innings and threw at least 25 pitches.
“I do enjoy the shorter outings a little more,” Morris said. “As weird as it sounds, I enjoy coming in and getting the guy in front of me out of that inning. It’s a confidence-booster.”
It is difficult to say whether Morris has been good or bad for the Pirates this season. On the “good” side of the ledger:
- 2.68 ERA
- 88% of runners stranded
- 58.5% ground-ball rate
- .201 opponents’ batting average
On the other hand…
- 4.96 fielding independent pitching
- 14.5% strikeout rate
- .206 BABIP (We’re up all night to get lucky…)
We’ll air on the side of Morris being an effective, but below average, reliever this season. Keep in mind the right-hander has entered multiple games with the directive of getting quick outs on three pitches or fewer, not rack up the strikeouts. In those situations, he has done the job. In Morris’ three longest appearances (in terms of batters faced), he pitched three-plus innings in each one without allowing a hit or run. Need three efficient innings? Morris has been the guy.
It’s all a part of a Pirates bullpen that, with the help of a strong defense, owns the National League’s second-best ERA and third-best strand rate. The relievers have helped grease the wheels for many Pirates comebacks and bailed out a starting pitcher or two.
“I say this with so much truth and honesty: I’ve never been on a team where I come out of the game and I knew it wasn’t over yet,” starting pitcher Jeff Locke said. “The bullpen steps up every night. Those guys don’t take nights off.”
Morris has become the versatile tool for manager Clint Hurdle to use in any and all situations. But for someone who did not even become a full-time reliever until two years ago, Morris has attacked the late-inning situations with runners on base zealously.
“The game’s on the line. If I make a bad pitch and he bangs one, all of a sudden it’s tied up,” Morris said. “I enjoy coming in middle of an inning and getting a guy out of a jam. Sometimes it’s not even a jam, it’s just matchups. I like that better than starting a fresh inning.”
Bonus Notes (Injuries)!
- The Pirates could trade for a minor league catcher to provide emergency depth to replace Michael McKenry without having to go through waivers, but general manager Neal Huntington does not expect any Major League trades this month.
- Closer Jason Grilli (right forearm strain) “is making quality progress,” the Pirates say, but he is still resting and receiving treatment.
- Pitcher James McDonald (right shoulder discomfort) will begin throwing out of the bullpen as part of his rehabilitation. “We’re looking for James to be able to help us at some point again this season,” general manager Neal Huntington said, but does not yet know in what role.
- Outfielder Travis Snider (left big toe discomfort) is expected to begin activities this week. Arts and crafts? Kayaking? The Pirates would not say.