WASHINGTON — The Jonathon Niese experiment is over, at least for now.

The Pirates will move the left-handed pitcher to the bullpen for the second half of the season, manager Clint Hurdle said Friday afternoon. Niese carries a career-high 5.13 ERA after 18 starts and the emergence of several young pitchers has made his spot in the rotation fungible.

“I would rather start, obviously. It’s where my heart’s at. But as long as I’m toeing the rubber, I’m happy. I’ll go down there and help the team win. Last year, I went down there at the end of the year and had a little bit of success.”

The amount of Niese’s success in the bullpen is relative. He had a 2.45 ERA in relief versus a 4.16 ERA as a starter. But he had an underwhelming 1.91 WHIP and had an unusually high strand rate (85.7 percent). He didn’t allow any home runs out of the bullpen, something that has been an ongoing source of trouble, but all of those stats came in just four appearances — not exactly a large sample size.

While Hurdle mentioned that Niese is stretched out and he could certainly be a multi-inning option, he went more than one inning just once for the Mets in 2015. The Mets appeared to use him as a situational lefty — once he faced just two batters and another appearance was for just three hitters.

That’s a role that could actually help the Pirates, who currently only have set-up man Tony Watson amongst relieving lefties. Niese’s FIP is 5.94 against right-handed hitters and 4.12 against lefties, suggesting that he could work in a matchup role. His ground ball rate is also better against lefties.

Niese said after his final first-half start that he wanted to take some time to not worry his mechanical adjustments and just throw. The move to the bullpen will give him an opportunity to do just that.

“I threw a bullpen (session) yesterday with that mindset,” he said. “I just went out there free-minded and just did what came natural. The ball came out of my hand pretty crisp and I was able to hit my spots. I’m going to keep that mindset, pound the zone and I’m sure — as my past career has shown — I’ll get good results.”

Hurdle echoed the opportunity for Niese to improve and offered that the move to the bullpen is not necessarily permanent.

“We felt at this time, to get him unplugged, to get him a different look, might help him moving forward,” Hurdle said. “We told him this wasn’t a banishment out of the rotation for good. We need his best effort moving forward.”

FOUR OR FIVE?

The Pirates did not announce who will take Niese’s spot in the rotation. Francisco Liriano, Chad Kuhl, Gerrit Cole and Jeff Locke — in that order — will take the first four starts of the second half.

Liriano would be on regular rest to take the next turn, and the Pirates do not need a fifth starter until July 23 because of off days.

“It challenges you from a rotational strategy, whether you go four-man or five-man,” Hurdle said. “You look to have a couple core guys that you want to make sure you keep in play with some consistency.”

Hurdle added that using a four man rotation “makes sense some times, and sometimes you want to just get other guys in as well.” Hurdle, pitching coach Ray Searage and general manager Neal Huntington will finalize that decision after Liriano’s start.

BANGED UP BUCS

Josh Harrison (left foo), Matt Joyce (left quad) and Gregory Polanco (left hamstring) all came into the break nursing injuries. Joyce and Harrison are good to go and are both in the starting lineup, with Harrison leading off and Joyce playing in right field.

Polanco, on the other hand, is not playing and is approaching the time period where the team usually needs to make a decision about a trip to the disabled list.

“Polanco worked out this afternoon,” Hurdle said. “He’s still going through a workout. We’ll have a little more information on him, probably later.”

Polanco hasn’t played since July 8. He can be retroactively placed on the disabled list back a maximum of five days.

BELL ON BOARD

The Pirates said the plan was for Josh Bell to play the last three games before the break. But Bell is in Washington and will be available off the bench — at least for one game.

“Cole is going to go at it tomorrow, so somebody is going to have to go off, so there’s a couple different players involved” Hurdle said. “We still have the option of hanging on to him because of the way the roster is construed. We don’t need that extra pitcher right now, so why wouldn’t we based on the three at-bats he’s had so far. Well see if there’s an opportunity to engage him off the bench.”

NOTES

For the fourth consecutive year, the Pirates’ fathers have joined the team on a road trip. They had a banquet dinner at the team hotel Thursday night and will be in attendance all weekend. … Catcher Chris Stewart played catch yesterday as he attempts to rehab his knee. … Stephen Strasburg, Tanner Roark and Max Scherzer will be the starters this series for Washington.

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55 COMMENTS

  1. Niese-Walker was not the baseball trade we were told it was after all. The Pittsburgh Kid (16 homers, 40 RBIs as of this morning) was traded for a guy in Niese who the Mets valued as equal to “two fringe prospects.” But taking them would have been an obvious salary dump equal to the Morton salary dump. So we took a guy with an equal salary(who the Mets wanted rid of) instead of the fringe prospects that would have then allowed us to afford Happ or a better pitcher than Niese. Brutal admission by NH, and he is taking a lot of flack in the local media. I give him credit again for admitting the mistake. This follows a pattern…….sometimes we are fed BS when a deal is done. The truth comes out later with a frank admission when things don’t work out

  2. A while back,I compared the Neil Walker trade with Joe L Brown trading Dick Groat for Don Cardwell. Hometown hero who is not so young anymore traded for a pitcher who did not have the greatest record.

    While Cardwell did not do a whole lot with the Pirates, he did have some good times after he was traded to the Mets for Denny Ribant Ribant only lasted a year and was traded for Dave Wickersham who only lasted a year.

    Dick Groat, on the other hand, had a great year for the Cardinals in 1963. I believe that he came in 2nd in the MVP vote and was the starter at SS in the all star game. In 1964, Groat and the Cardinals won the World Series against the Yankees

    This was not one of Joe Brown’s finest moments. We can hope that the things will turn out better this time around

  3. It will be a miracle if the Pirates can somehow unload Niese and Liruano at the trade deadline. But, they both need to go…the team has no shot if those two are going to be in the rotation any longer. Glasnow is a clear upgrade over either, but the FO is too stubborn to make the right move.

      • The Nationals are a good team, but they do not have a very good lineup – they are good because of their pitching, especially starting pitching. He did pitch good for 6 innings, but he is supposed to do that – he was supposed to be our #2 starter – remember? He just cannot pitch a complete game (and I don’t mean 9 innings) – he always seems to implode and give up one big inning, due to walks and pitching from behind primarily.

    • I don’t see them trading Liriano. I expect them to give Niese a shot to show what he can do out of the pen.

    • It has to be his legal issue…he’s in trouble and he knows it…only a robot could not have that affect him.

  4. I never realized Niese was an experiment. That’s pretty bad if they traded Walker knowing it was an experiement. The bag of goods they sold us that he was a #3 with upside. When the GM states he wishes they would have got 2 mid prospects for Walker, it says Niese is as good as gone.

    • The experiment was to see if Niese could improve his results in Pittsburgh like other pitchers have. Regardless of prior success, that’s always going to be something of a crapshoot.

    • Fryer. He’s gotten to the point where, if the right team loses a catcher down the stretch, they might be able to trade him for something useful.

      • You wouldn’t consider keeping Fryer and trying to trade Stewart? I know, I know, Stewart signed an extension earlier this year but if Fryer is better, shouldn’t the Pirates keep him over Stewart?

        • I don’t think an injured Stewart would be worth very much at the MLB level. I’d consider keeping Fryer, anyway, though. He’s been excellent.

    • Fryer. Stewart’s defense is vastly overrated. Just as important is the fact he has an injured knee that will not completely heal without postseason surgery. The decision is not even a close one.

      • Thank you – been saying that about Stewart for 2 years now. His defense is VERY overrated and we all know he can’t hit….

  5. Wouldn’t it be better to play Neise at #4 w the next 2 games being Milwaukee and Philly to boost trade value or is it too late since he’s going to the pen?

    • I don’t think two starts is going to change Niese’s value significantly one way or the other. Any team that would want him is looking at the option for 2017 as his value, not what he can do the rest of this year.

    • I haven’t seen him pitch in Indy, but it sounds like he’s pretty far back in the pack.

    • Hurdle didn’t seem enthusiastic about the idea when he was approached with it. I’d say not likely. Maybe Jaso plays some outfield and Bell gets some time at first, though.

  6. This site is too good to keep misspelling our GM’s first name. It’s happened more than once this month.

  7. I find it interesting that Jaso is not in the lineup tonight against a RH pitcher. I don’t remember him sitting against a RH previously.

    • Definitely interesting. Maybe just rewarding Freese for his strong first half. Jaso is here and was in good spirits in the clubhouse. We didn’t get the roster until after it closed, so I didn’t get to ask about it. I will postgame.

  8. When they said Polanco worked out. To what extent was that?
    Is he headed to the DL? I’d rather have him get healthy and
    us have a full roster available.

    • Here’s what I can tell you. He walked into the clubhouse in the fullest sweat I’ve ever seen a baseball player in. He was out on the field working out and they really put him through the paces. He wasn’t in any obvious pain or limping at all. He also took regular batting practice and seemed fine from my vantage point.

      I would think if he can’t play tomorrow, he’s headed to the DL.

      • If he’s working that hard, it sounds really positive.

        Either that or Ben has contacted him about the tight end position.

    • Targets? Not a peep. I’ve heard they’re listening to offers on Locke and it’s been pretty well reported that they’re shopping Niese. I’m not much a rumor guy. If I can report something, I will. If not, don’t take much stock in it.

  9. Any thoughts on the Pirates’ pattern (Cutch, Marte, Cervelli, Stewart, Polanco) of avoiding 15-day DL designations? It seems like it causes bench issues and players returning at under 100%.

    • I understood being cautious back a year or two ago – but given the expressed desire to give players a rest I agree they could/should have been smarter in this. The catcher situation was a bit different – but by all accounts Stallings is good defensively and hits about as well as Stewart has this year.
      Polanco probably should have neen DLed right away – the rest would have been good for him IMHO. Cutch could have been “rested with his “sore thumb” back in May or June.

    • They usually try to keep it at five days or less. This situation is a bit different because they have an extra bench player in Bell available.

      I think they thought they could get Polanco to the break without having to make a move. If he’s still not able to go, I’d expect a DL trip.

      The catching situation is tough because Stewart can play, he’s just not 100 percent. But he’s probably not going to be 100 percent the rest of the season no matter what. So it’s a tough situation to judge. In hindsight, if he goes on the DL right away, he’s probably back by now.

      • Another reason to just stick with Fryer and leave Stewart on the DL indefinitely when Cervelli returns.

    • For more than one reason, it’s pretty imperative that Liriano has a good start tonight.

  10. Please rank the rookie pitchers: Glasnow, Kuhl, Brault and Williams in terms of the likelihood that they will make a positive contribution to the Pirates’ rotation between now and September 1, this season.

    • That’s a tough one. I think Glasnow has the best shot at making a positive impact, but if he struggles with his fastball command, things could get ugly fast. His curveball looked very hittable at times in his first start and he’s not all that comfortable with the changeup.

      Kuhl is a more steady guy. He’s not going to set the world on fire, but even average starting pitching would be an improvement and he has a chance to provide that.

  11. Hey guys & gals, with a ton of news today and some time on my hands at the ballpark, I figured I would do a little Q&A here in the comments. Let me know what you’re thinking.

Comments are closed.