PITTSBURGH — With Arquimedes Caminero traded to the Seattle Mariners on Saturday and Jeff Locke removed from the starting rotation, the Pirates’ bullpen seems to be set for the remainder of 2016.
Curtis Partch is in town, recalled from Indianapolis as the corresponding move to the Caminero trade, but he is expected to be sent back to Triple-A when the Pirates call up a starting pitcher for Tuesday’s series opener against the Padres.
“Once things settle through the San Diego series, that’ll be the club we anticipate having going forward whether it be the bullpen, the rotation or what have you,” manager Clint Hurdle said Sunday morning.
The Pirates will use a combination of strongly defined and somewhat more fluid roles for their relievers. Tony Watson will close, Neftali Feliz will pitch the eighth and Felipe Rivero will get the seventh. Beyond that, things will be more flexible.
“Bastardo is also an option to go in [seventh or eighth] if we need,” Hurdle said. “We’ll give Rivero the first shot and use Bastardo as a Swiss Army blade to move around. [Jared] Hughes is still a guy that we’re probably focused on runners on base — inherited runners — and coming in to get a ground ball. We’re hoping to get him some clean innings, as well. Then you have the two guys with some length in [Juan] Nicasio and Locke.”
The clearly defined role toward the back of the bullpen for Rivero is new, as he was more of a matchup guy with his former club.
“When I was with Washington, I didn’t have a role,” he said. “I was in the sixth, seventh, eighth or ninth. When I got here, they just gave me the seventh inning.”
Rivero said that the consistency of the role makes his routine a bit easier to manage. When the Pirates are ahead or tied, he’ll get to work in the fifth inning and be ready to go when it’s his turn.
It won’t change the way he approaches pitching, though. He utilizes a power four-seam fastball with a changeup as his primary off-speed offering. He also throws a slider and occasionally a curveball, but it’s the changeup that allows Rivero — a lefty — to be effective against batters on either side of the plate.
In fact, Rivero has a pretty strong reverse platoon split this season, with lefties maintaining an .854 OPS against while right-handers have a .572 mark.
“It doesn’t matter for me if it’s a right-hander or a left-hander, I just go out and make pitches,” Rivero said, while crediting his five seasons of development with the Tampa Bay Rays as the reason he’s so successful against right-handers. “When I was with Tampa Bay, I used to be a starter. Those years over there helped me know what I need to throw and what I shouldn’t throw to right handers.”
Bastardo also has a reverse platoon split this season, although to less of a degree. It’s one of the reasons Hurdle is comfortable with him in a number of roles. It seems then that the Pirates — who have four left-handers in the bullpen — don’t have a traditional left-handed specialist.
At least for now.
“We look every day to improve the club and this is a time of year where guys come across the waiver list all the time,” Hurdle said. “That’s out there. That’s real. If there’s an opportunity to improve our bullpen or improve our team, whatever area you’re looking at, we’re going to explore it.”
BANGED UP BUCS
Gregory Polanco (left shoulder) won’t start for the fourth consecutive game. He is available to pinch hit, as he did Friday. He hit .158 (3 for 19) on the Pirates’ recent road trip. … David Freese (left elbow) won’t play after being hit by a pitch in Saturday’s game.
NO NEWS FOR NOW
Hurdle said he won’t have an official starter for Tuesday until after the game, but it seems apparent that Chad Kuhl is the expected move.
Tonight's lineup for Indy-Toledo. Chad Kuhl a late scratch, but he is healthy and threw a bullpen today. pic.twitter.com/X9Y6NmQBH1
— Brian Peloza (@BrianPeloza) August 6, 2016
Ryan Vogelsong and Jameson Taillon will pitch the other two games of the three-game midweek series.