Middle Relief Problems Continue For Pirates in Loss

The Pirates dropped the third game of their four-game set against the Washington Nationals in decisive fashion 9-3, which increased their deficit to seven games behind division-leading St. Louis.

A.J. Burnett struggled for the second consecutive start, giving up 11 hits and five earned runs over 5.2 innings. He was able to strike out eight Washington batters, but was inconsistent with his command throughout the night.

“The control was terrible,” Burnett said following the game. “I’m hitting guys in the foot, throwing balls down the middle [of the plate], throwing balls away at first, didn’t cover home. I mean yeah, I got strikeouts, but I also gotta win ball games.”

Deolis Guerra relieved Burnett, and gave up two earned runs of his own, including a double off of the left field wall followed by a two-run home run by Ian Desmond.

Arquimedes Caminero’s struggles continued tonight, as he allowed a leadoff walk to start the top of the eighth, followed by a two-run home run by Michael Taylor. Caminero has now given up 12 earned runs in his last 13 innings of work.

Overall, Guerra and Caminero combined to give up four earned runs in the final 3.1 innings.

The Pirates were not able to muster much offensively off of Nationals starter Gio Gonzalez through the first five innings, but were able to put together a rally in the sixth inning. Pedro Alvarez led the inning off with a single, followed by Gregory Polanco reaching base on an error by Nationals first baseman Clint Robinson. Starling Marte then drove an RBI single through the right side of the infield to cut the Nationals’ lead to 5-1. Andrew McCutchen then hit an RBI single to left field making it 5-2. That marked the end of Gonzalez’s night, and he was still responsible for McCutchen and Marte who were on first and second base.

Nationals reliever Aaron Barrett was then able to stall the Pirates rally and take full control of the game when he induced a double-play groundball off of the bat of newly acquired Aramis Ramirez. The Pirates offense was quiet for the remainder of the game.

The Pirates send ace Gerrit Cole to the mound on Sunday afternoon, looking to avoid what would be a disappointing series split.

**It is easy to see why the Pirates are rumored to be interested in acquiring another late-inning relief pitcher before Friday’s trade deadline. The middle-relief struggles continued tonight, and it looks to be the club’s main weakness heading towards the final two months of the season.

Mark Melancon, Tony Watson and Jared Hughes are as dependable as any relief trio in baseball, but the middle-relievers — Caminero, Guerra and Antonio Bastardo — have been inconsistent, especially of late.

Early on in the season, it had looked like Caminero could possibly fill in at the closing role with his ability to throw in the upper-90s to 100 MPH, and the fact that he was striking out almost ten batters per nine innings pitched. But since the middle of June, Caminero’s fastball has lost the downward angle that made him so difficult to hit, and barreling up his 100 MPH fastball has not been such a difficult task for opposing hitters. His lack of command and the mechanical problems he’s experiencing could be a by-product of being on pace to throw more innings than he ever has as a professional. Regardless, the Pirates can no longer trust him in high-leverage situations until he works out his mechanical issues.

Right-hander Deolis Guerra’s first four appearances for the Pirates were stellar, when he pitched seven scoreless innings while striking out seven batters. He’s since come back down to Earth in his last seven innings, giving up three home runs and five total earned runs.

John Holdzkom was supposed to play a big role in the bullpen heading into this season, but injuries have derailed his progress and he hasn’t made an appearance with the Pirates yet this season. Rob Scahill has been dealing with forearm tightness, and hasn’t pitched since June 25th.

Which brings us to left-hander Antonio Bastardo, who I wrote about before the All-Star break as a guy the Pirates were hoping to cover more high-leverage innings and take some of the workload off of Tony Watson in the second half. This hasn’t come to fruition, as only 4.1 of his 30 innings pitched have been in high-leverage situations, according to FanGraphs.

With the uncertainty and inconsistencies of the middle-relievers, it’s a necessity that the Pirates find help before the trading deadline to support Melancon, Watson and Hughes.

  • Cute TRADE just announced:
    Royals= Cueto+Cash
    Reds= Brandon Finnegan+John Lamb+Cody Reed

    That is a top 60 prospect and two lesser prospects. If that’s what it took to get Cueto for 2 months (a Cy Young type pitcher)…and Kazmir was for two prospects who were not really or barely top 100-150 worthy…you have to think someone like Samardzija would be much closer to Kazmir.

    • If Shark went before Cueto sure. But IMO, his price just went up due to less supply. That’s simply how it works.

      • Supply is super strong…Mat Latos, Dan Haren, Shark, Hamels, James Shields, , Mike Leake, David Price…I think the Cueto trade brings down the value of other pitchers bc it is nothing like the deadline hauls for Aces before. Lester last year brought back Cespedes with multiple years of control.

    • Lamb isnt that far off from where Taillon is, a once big time prospect that saw his stock fall thanks to injury and lack of production while coming back from injury. Its not really 2 lesser prospects since Finnegan is currently top 50 and Lamb has been showing lately all of the reasons why he was a top 20 prospect pre injury.

      Yeah, not a massive haul for a Cy Young but its certainly not as small as some make that out to be. Finnegan is quality, Lamb has good numbers in AAA with over a K per inning, and Reed is a LHP at 22 in AA. I think thats bigger than people realize for half a year of ace.

  • Jim Garland
    July 26, 2015 2:22 pm

    it’s a bigger issue than middle relief. You have 6 guys – 50% of the staff – that range from unreliable to atrocious. And with few exceptions, this trend has been in place for several weeks. Morton and Locke put pressure on middle relief because they can’t get the job done, then you’re in trouble because for the 5th – 6th inning, there’s not a guy in that bullpen who can be given the ball in a high leverage situation and expect anything but an implosion. I would look for back of the rotation help via trade, and I’d call up the best 2 candidates to fill the Caminero and Guerra roles

  • Looking at what the Reds look to be getting back for Cueto and what the A’s got back for Kazmir. The Pirates should most definitely be going out and trying to get a starter. There are guys out there that would most definitely be a major upgrade to our rotation. This is our biggest need no matter how good the rotation is. remember we have 9 games with the Cardinals 6 with the Dodgers and 9 with the Cubs and 3 with the Giants. These are HUGE games/series that I don’t want to be sending Morton and Locke out for.

    • I, like you, am very skeptical of Charlie Morton…if for no other reason than Clint Hurdle doesn’t seem to know what the rest of us all know, which is that Morton can’t go into the 7th. IF we could legitimately upgrade the rotation without giving up more than what the Astros did to acquire Kazmir…I would do it.

  • BuccosFanStuckinMD
    July 26, 2015 12:53 pm

    Other than the top 3 guys, the bullpen is a disaster right now. Caminero, Worley, Guerra, and Bastardo are all sub par. We need to pick up at least one LH and one RH reliever, and hope that Holdzkum can soon come up and replace on of the other current RH relievers.

  • I think Samardzija’s asking price would be totally
    reasonable, and he is the option here. The guy just eats the hell out
    of innings, and his numbers are a solid number 3 or a number 2 at
    times. The Pirates have two aces already. Burnett is going to be a #3
    or #4 the rest of the way out. Samardzija fits marvelously.
    As for
    relief help, Clippard would be good. Cotts would be a very good lefty
    who would likely cost as much or less than Aramis did. A package deal
    for Lind and Cotts would be great to replace Bastardo and Alvarez, and
    Clippard would be good to relieve Hughes and Watson somewhat in high

    I really think we could make these 3 moves that make us a legit World Series contender with a lot of depth (when Jay Hay and Jordy return), and I just do not see it gutting the system. Lind might require a decent but not elite prospect, same with Clippard. Samardzija might take good prospect but we have plenty to part with 1 good prospect as part of that package. Thoughts?

    • Three moves would be a ton…you want Samardzija, Clippard, Cotts, AND Lind?!…I would take two of the 4 and be thrilled.

  • Looks like the pirates just may face cueto again this year, the chances of that happening would improve dramatically if they would get another reliable reliever.

    • The only way we face Cueto is if we get to the WS and so do the Royals. The Royals look to have the much better shot right now. They do not have much competition out in the AL, to be honest, and the Pirates have the Cardinals, Cubs, Dodgers, and Giants…and if the Nationals get healthy them too. Obviously only two of the three: Cubs, Dodgers, and Giants will make the post season IF our Buccos make it as well…

      Stumbling HARD out of the break is akin to us starting the season poorly…just something you can’t do BOTH of and contend for a division crown. IF we were still in the 2.5-3 games-back area then sure we could catch the Cardinals…but 7? Yeah, 7 ain’t happening this late in the year…That means we are looking at another WC game at best…better tool up for the run.

      • Oh no just the yankees,angels,astros, twins and bluejays among others. So not much competition there.yeah right. When the pirates shore up the middle relief I believe they will run down the cards who besides being good have also been extremely lucky this year. Even if they don’t the pirates have a very good chance to go all the way this year. So all told I give the pirates a better than 50% chance of facing cueto again in october.

        • Wow! Very optimistic pilbo…First, the Royals have a .604 Win%…there is no team in the AL within 40 points of them. Thats amazing. They are at least 4 games better than every single club that you mentioned. The Royals are the CLEAR favorites to win the AL this year.

          The Pirates need a little bit more than middle relief to run down the Cardinals. I have already, in my mind, conceded the division to the Cardinals…we need to maintain our lead in the WC and get the game at home. Yes, we can still lose at home but when you look at our home/road splits this is a team that NEEDS that home Wild Card game. (And can it, please, not be against Madison Bumgarner again?!)

          • While your right I will say this, funny things happen in short series play, heck even in seven game series. Any mistakes a team makes are magnified not only because they are playing teams that are just as good as they are but also because playoff baseball is such a different beast. Anything can happen.

          • Put it this way… If the Cards play merely .550 ball the rest of the way, they end up with 98 wins. For Bucs to win 99, they’d need to play .656 ball (42-22).

            If Cards play at .600, they win 101. Bucs need to play .703.

            If Cards don’t slow off current .643 pace, they win 104. Bucs need to play .750.

            It could be done, but Bucs would need a lot of help from other teams to slow Cards down.

  • The Pirates NEED a starting pitcher. Burnett’s gonna be fine, but he’s not going to be first half AJ and we need that kind of pitching. The offense is going to be fine as is. Especially when Harrison and Mercer come back. We also need a solid reliever. Holdzkom should be able to help soon so he becomes you 7th inning guy. So al this team needs is one Starter one reliever

  • Bring up Glasnow in September for late inning short relief. He will be lights out and won’t cost anything. His stuff could play very well in the 7th for just a few batters each night. Then head to AAA next year to refine his skills as an ace. The Cardinals weren’t afraid to do that with Martinez initially and several years ago the Yankees added Joba Chamberllin to their bullpen in September for the playoff push he was spectacular shutting down rallies and helping them win the series. Bringing him up that year had nothing to do with limiting his long term success. Just a crazy thought of mine…breaking from the typical way that they bring up their top guys.’

    • Didn’t work out so well for Joba. Glasnow’s FB/CB mix would be effective in getting hitters out I’m sure…they just won’t do it.

      • Glasnow is NOT ready for MLB yet. His lack of consistent command would eliminate him from a role like that even if the organization operated like that…which they don’t.

        • I think Glasnow could get major league hitters out now…I just don’t think that’s best for his development or that the big league club would do it. Many MLB relievers have much less than what Glasnow even as he currently is…many have much worse command and not nearly the arsenal.

          • I wholeheartedly agree that it’s not best for his development but would it actually hurt his development? Bring him up in September when no corresponding roster moves are necessary. Put him in against big leaguers and see if he blows them away like he has at every level he has been at

            • I guess “not best for” doesn’t equal “set back”…but in this case it could. Either he finds success and then he chooses to believe that he can continue to get people out with just his two pitches and is never the pitcher he could be…or he gets pounder and loses confidence and is set back…I’m interested in neither.

            • Why would facing MLB hitters be bad for Glasnow’s development?

              • Plenty of ways (see two ways, above). Norm throws out Martinez, but what about Brandon Finnegan? He pitched in the playoffs last year for the Royals and has sucked so far this year in his limited number of innings back in the minors…that was after he was beyond excellent in the playoffs last year.

              • I agree. Why would a month in September be bad for his development. I give him more credit than to assume that he might be psychologically scarred as was previously suggested. He might be a weapon….you never know. Also Joba’s career was derailed by a rotator cuff injury the next year, followed by a host of other injuries.

                • Its bad because it delays him working exclusively on his changeup. He’d likely largely abandon working on improving that the rest of this season, which is an issue. There’s no way it helps his development, just his confidence. He wont be working on any pitch specifically, just trying to get outs. Which is fine, but not helping him largely longterm.

                  He wouldnt be learning to get ML players out as a SP, wouldnt be working on refining key parts of his SP game, and agree or not could struggle and have that affect his stuff (it has happened before with players).

        • BuccosFanStuckinMD
          July 26, 2015 12:55 pm

          I disagree – I think Glasnow would be an immediate upgrade over Morton, even though he may not be a 100% finished product.

      • I cannot wait for “The Glasnow Rules”.

        Honestly, how one can say with a straight face that the Yankees’ handling of Joba didn’t mess him up… the guy has had almost no success as a starter since 2007 and wasn’t even a top line reliever.

        • Completely agree about Joba. The Yankees definitely screwed him up…wish the Pirates gave him a shot at their pitching clinic. Haha.

  • As soon as his rehab is done and all is well, Holdzkom needs to skip Indy and go straight to Pittsburgh to replace Caminero.

  • The middle relief is bad, but that was secondary tonight. The Nat’s had their bats back in the lineup and they were swinging like a confident group.

  • Tyler Clippard? What would he cost? Kimbral too.

    • The Pirates won’t, nor should they, trade any valuable prospects for relief pitchers. These guys will cost too much to bring in. They need a serviceable vet, not another closer type.

      • You might not have to…look at the Cishek trade.

        • Scott Kliesen
          July 26, 2015 8:40 pm

          Cishek is pedestrian this season. Lost velocity and effectiveness. Not a good comparison.

      • Closers provide excellent service even when they do not close games. Good pitchers are what the Pirates need.

        • Tell that to Papelbon.
          “Closers” like to close. The exceptions are generally guys who fell out of favor (like Melancon) and had to start over again as set-up guys.
          I doubt a guy like Ziegler would want to be relegated to the 7th inning, unless he feels like this may be his last opportunity to erase the memories of his one playoff appearance, which led to a 108.00 ERA after coughing up 4 ERs in his 1/3 of an inning.

          • Clippard hasn’t always been a closer.

          • Didn’t he just become the closer though? Reed was the closer when we were in Arizona. I think Ziegler would be a fantastic upgrade.

          • These prima donnas can continue to close for teams that suck. Or, they can work the seventh and eight innings for a playoff team.

            Who gives a shit if they’re unhappy. Trade the whiner after the season ends or let him retire.

            • Imma guess his fellow players arent gonna love listening to a teammate complain and act like he “deserves” anything over Watson and Melancon.

              A player verbally unhappy can create issues that dont help a team at all.

              • If the prima donna gives the team the edge it needs, then they too can suck it up for the rest of the season.

                • Yeah, im sure that’ll be easy. Players are immune to human emotion after all. Should be easy for players to ignore a teammate actively complaining about his job while just arriving to new team. No chance of that getting toxic quickly.

                  • They likely will need to suffer the fool for a few months. They tolerated Grilli, who has an ego the size of a solar system. They should have the resources to manage most players.

                    Of course, we are assuming for the sake of arguing the point that any closer the Pirates acquire in a mid-season trade will make trouble for the team. That’s a very strong assumption, one lacking evidential support in many cases. If we drop that assumption, then your
                    point all but evaporates.

                    • Grilli wasnt complaining about his role until, wait for it, just before they traded him. Grilli, even with a big ego, was around multiple years and meshed with the team. You are talking about a new player showing up and going “why am i not the closer”.

                      Its a strong assumption to assume that a newly acquired player who shows up and immediately acts like he “deserves” something wont be met with team leaders being upset at his attitude. You lack just as much support.

                      I dont assume a closer will make trouble, i assume anyone who would actively and consistently demand to be a closer for this team wouldnt be met with full smiles by teammates. Plenty of closers who show up and are fine throwing the 7th would be fully welcomed, but you dont show up and demand to replace an all star.

                    • Well, what is your point. If a closer may or may not cause trouble, then there is no intrinsic reason for the Pirates to trade for a closer to pitch in the sixth and seventh inningsk.

                    • I suppose my broad point is, when trading for a guy inquire as to if he’s comfortable enough in a non 8-9th inning role so as to not verbally complain the entire time.

                      Plenty of current closers wouldnt do that, but i think a few would and would negate parting with prospects for that player. I suspect Jonathan Papelbon would not appreciate 7th inning work and let it be known. Enough useable 7th inning options to avoid guys that put their role ahead of the team publicly.

                    • Ok

  • HELP WANTED! MIDDLE RELIEVER FOR BIG LEAGUE BALLCLUB IN MIDST OF PENNANT RACE! All interested applicants apply to pittsburgh pirates front office no later than 4pm july 31st 2015.