The season has gotten off to a rough start for Phil Irwin, resulting in the right-hander being designated to the bullpen in Indianapolis. The move coincides with the addition of Jeff Locke to the squad.
After dealing with some setbacks from tendonitis in his elbow in the spring, Irwin saw only three innings in two games in Florida. Following his assignment to Indianapolis, Irwin allowed 11 earned runs in just six innings over a pair of starts. During this stretch, he allowed ten hits and walked five.
In addition, opposing hitters are hitting .370 off Irwin coming into Saturday. Irwin has also given up three home runs.
His average fastball was between 87 and 88 MPH last Sunday, an outing in which he allowed 7 earned runs in just 1.1 innings. After not giving up a run on just one hit in the first inning, Irwin got just one out in the second inning and he walked three in the frame.
With the lack of work in spring training, Indianapolis pitching coach Tom Filer said that Irwin is still looking to find his groove and get some work in at Triple-A.
“It is (like spring training) for Phil,” Filer said. “He is way behind the other guys. We have been trying to push him to get ready for the season.”
With the demotion, Filer said that there is also an organizational change of view on Irwin’s future.
“The organization sees him as bullpen help down the road,” Filer said. “With that curveball and when Phil gets the command of the fastball where it should be, he’s going to have some really good success.”
With the depth of the relievers in Pittsburgh, the demotion to the bullpen is a large hit to Irwin and his timeframe in Pittsburgh. With his lack of velocity and control issues early, it likely means that Irwin’s only short-term future with the Pirates is in long relief.
Irwin was adequate in his first relief appearance on Saturday night. Despite the success, the velocity and the command seemed very similar as it was in the rotation. He walked a pair of hitters in his two innings of work, with one of them intentional. Only 19 of his 36 pitches were strikes.
While the run that Irwin allowed was earned, it was aided by a two-base throwing error from the catcher. Irwin did load the bases in the ninth, but was able to get out of the jam, which was uplifting to see. One positive is that Irwin did strike out two hitters during the outing.