PITTSBURGH – The Pirates had a very public plan heading into the season with their bullpen. They had a lot of relievers in the bullpen who could go multiple innings. They had a great trio of arms at the back of the bullpen in Neftali Feliz, Tony Watson, and Mark Melancon. And they had some starters who were capable of putting up decent numbers, but who might not be trustworthy the third time through the lineup.
It all set up for a situation where a starter could go five innings, hand the ball over to a fresh reliever for one or two innings, and then turn to the late inning guys.
That was the plan tonight. The execution didn’t go so well.
Ryan Vogelsong was making the spot start this evening for Francisco Liriano. Vogelsong looked great, giving up just one run on four hits in five innings, with five strikeouts and no walks. He found out that he was going to start yesterday, and was going 18 days since his last start, when he went 100 pitches. He ended up getting pulled after five innings with a 2-1 lead, throwing just 66 pitches on the night.
“It wasn’t a pitch count,” Hurdle said on the decision to pull the starter. “I felt we were best served right there, for the time that he had spent down and where he was in the game, I felt our best shot to move forward was the bullpen.”
On paper, the move looked good. The Pirates went with Arquimedes Caminero, who had given up just one run in 4.1 innings prior to tonight, with four strikeouts and one walk. All he had to do was get through one inning, and turn it over to the late inning guys. Unfortunately, the execution didn’t work out.
Caminero didn’t have control, walking two batters and loading the bases. He ended up missing on a cutter, and Jarrod Saltalamacchia crushed a grand slam to right field, putting the Tigers up 5-2.
“When you’re the manager, you make those moves, you take the responsibility for the bad ending,” Hurdle said of the call to go with his bullpen.
What really hurt was that the Pirates couldn’t solve Shane Greene, after tagging him for two runs in the first, and working his pitch count up over 30 pitches in the frame. Greene settled down, and ended up going six innings, allowing just the two runs on three hits and three walks, while striking out seven.
“He got back in the strike zone with good late movement,” Hurdle said. “He settled in and he put his foot down and stopped us.”
The Pirates got some good innings from A.J. Schugel, who was called up today to help a shortened bullpen, and ended up pitching 2.1 shutout innings, taking over for Caminero in the sixth inning.
“I thought he did a really good job,” Hurdle said. “The guy showed up at 4:00. At 9:00 he was in the game. He gave us the needed innings. The curveball was a little inconsistent, but he kept throwing it. The changeup was effective to left-handers. The slider played. I liked the way he used the fastball up tonight, and then back down.”
Schugel kept the Pirates close, and they battled back to 5-3 heading into the 9th inning. But Cory Luebke gave up two more runs in the ninth after walking three batters, and the Pirates lost the game 7-3.
Maybe the outcome would have been different if Vogelsong had pitched the sixth inning, instead of Caminero. Maybe Vogelsong gets tagged in the sixth inning, and this article is about the Pirates not going with their pre-season plan of pulling back of the rotation starters early and going with their bullpen. Either way, it didn’t work out tonight, even though it looked like a good plan on paper.
Vogelsong said he felt good at the end of his start, and was feeling good heading into the outing, trying to carry over his warmups to the game. That led to a strong first two frames where he struck out four batters total. His only damage came on a solo homer to Ian Kinsler in the fourth, but he settled down and pitched well in the fifth. He will now likely head back to the bullpen, and that changing role has been an issue for him in the past.
“For me, it’s easier to come back [to the rotation], because this is what I’m more accustomed to doing,” Vogelsong said. “It will be back to business as usual here. Go back the other way and get ready to do it out of the bullpen again. Just keep grinding.”
The Pirates wrap up their series against the Tigers tomorrow, going 1-2 in the series this week. Gerrit Cole will take the mound for the Pirates, going up against Jordan Zimmermann.
**Ryan Vogelsong on his age and abilities: “I’m confident in what I do, and what I can do, and what I still have left in the tank. To me, age is just a number. I know people talk about how old I am, and how long I’ve been around. I feel a lot younger than my numbers say. If you look at my track record, I don’t have the innings on my arm and body like most 38 year olds do. I’ve been in the bullpen, a long man. I was in Japan, a six man rotation for a number of years. I don’t have the same amount of innings and pitches on my arm as a regular 38-year-old. I still feel really good, and I feel like I still have a lot left in the tank.”
**The Pirates DFAd Michael Morse before the game, to make room for Schugel. Clint Hurdle said the move was about maximizing versatility, and going with Cole Figueroa on the roster instead of Morse. He also said that having Jason Rogers in Triple-A played a part in losing Morse.
**Schugel pitched well tonight, but he might not have gotten the call had Rob Scahill not been on paternity leave. Hurdle still said he was deserving, with these comments before the game: “He pitched extremely well in a number of different roles. From that standpoint, he’s got the length and the volume to give us if needed. We felt very confident in making the call his way.”
**John Holdzkom officially became a free agent today. Hurdle on Holdzkom’s struggles on the field, and his tough off-season away from the field: “There’s not a guy in the clubhouse or organization that isn’t pulling for him.”