Pirates Notebook: Felipe Rivero’s New Approach For Attacking Hitters, Limiting Walks

BRADENTON, Fla. – Felipe Rivero is having a nice spring.

After throwing two perfect innings today with three strikeouts, he now has no runs and one hit allowed in seven innings, with nine strikeouts. But the most impressive stat he’s put up has been the walk total: Zero.

Rivero has shown some dominant stuff, with his changeup being one of the best swing and miss pitches in baseball, and elite fastball velocity for any hand coming from the left side. But control has always held him back, with a 3.86 BB/9 last year. So it’s encouraging to see him off to such a great start with the walks this year.

According to Pirates’ Manager Clint Hurdle, that was a big focus for Rivero coming into the season.

“One of his comments in his entrance interview was ‘I need to pound the zone. I gave up too many free passes. I want people to swing the bat to beat me,'” Hurdle said. “He’s in tune. He’s aware. And so far what he’s done is make people swing the bat, stayed ahead in counts.”

Hurdle mentioned that this approach doesn’t mean Rivero is pitching to avoid walks. There was an at-bat today where he went 3-2 and threw a changeup, rather than a fastball to avoid the walk.

“He threw a 3-2 changeup today in a situation that, if a guy was worried about walking people, he might not have thrown a 3-2 changeup, even if it is Spring Training,” Hurdle said. “I like where he’s going with it.”

Rivero is looking great so far this spring, and could be turning into a pitcher who will make everyone forget Mark Melancon very quickly.

“The velocity is firm,” Hurdle said. “He’s mixing pitches. He’s throwing his changeup, his curveball, and his slider. He’s throwing his fastball, trying to get it down and elevated when he wants. As far as pitch execution, it’s been fun to watch. Today he doubled up and pitched the second inning and handled that extremely well.”

The Pirates have Rivero under control for the next five seasons, including 2017. If he does figure out a way to reduce his walks and maintain his dominant stuff, they could have one of the best relievers in baseball on their team for a long time.

Tony Watson

Yesterday, Tony Watson pitched two innings over at Pirate City. I didn’t get a chance to catch up with him after the start, since I was focused on Mitch Keller on the other field. I did see an inning of Watson’s outing, and talked with him today about the work he got in.

“I felt like my stuff was good,” Watson said. “[Scott Mitchell] was over there. Doing things delivery-wise, timing-wise, just trying to get things tightened up. We’ve got two weeks left now, so we’ve got to clean those things up and then get into compete mode to go out there and get after it these last couple of weeks and get into the season.”

One concern was that Watson was only throwing 88-90 MPH, which is well down from his usual velocity. The velocity took a dip last year, but was still higher than yesterday. Watson didn’t get the velocity after his start, and said he feels fine.

“I didn’t even know that was it yesterday,” Watson said. “Everything feels good. Maybe over there it just wasn’t coming out as good. It feels great.”

It wasn’t long ago that there were concerns about an early season velocity drop for Mark Melancon, and those disappeared quickly. Hopefully that’s the case with Watson, and he gets into a more normal mode when the season rolls around.

As for Keller, Watson got a chance to see a bit of his outing, and was telling his teammates back at LECOM about the young prospect.

“He seemed to be pitching well,” Watson said. “Any time you’re not getting a ‘roll it’ and you’re getting a ‘stay out there’, you’re doing well.”

Alen Hanson’s Role on the Team

Alen Hanson has a spot on the team pretty much locked up due to being out of options. However, it appears the Pirates are looking at him for a very specific role off the bench, with his speed playing a weapon.

“It’s a part of the skill set that we don’t have a lot of,” Hurdle said. “The skill factor, the speed, the ability to steal a base, the ability to put down a bunt, beat out an infield hit, score from first. He can do some things on the bases that we don’t have a lot of. A wonderful asset to have is a guy who can steal a base when everybody knows you need to steal a base. We’re looking for him to possibly grow into that spot if he can do that. That’s one of the things that’s out there for him to do.”

Hanson’s versatility will work well on the team, making him an option as a super utility guy. If he ever wants to work his way out of that, he’s going to need to hit consistently. He swings for the fences way too often for that to be likely, and it doesn’t sound like the Pirates expect that approach to change.

“He’s a slasher at the plate. You’re not going to change the man,” Hurdle said. “You like the way he’s been attacking the strike zone now with the bat. He’s been moving the ball around. One day he pulled a lot of balls. Today he’s moving the ball around the field, slice the ball down the third base line as well. His game is in a good place right now. He’s competing well.”

Other Notes

**Drew Hutchison had a rough outing today, giving up six runs in 3.1 innings of work. Things started to fall apart on him in the second, and continued into the third and fourth innings, as he lost command of his pitches and worked outside of the zone.

“I don’t think you could have asked for a more efficient first inning. He was like a sharp shooter out there,” Hurdle said. “And then for whatever reason, things flipped on him. Behind in counts. Seemed to get a little quick, because the arm dragged, and the number of balls thrown high and wide and arm side up. Pitches elevated. A lot of three ball counts, extended counts. The overall execution wasn’t what we’ve seen earlier.”

**John Jaso got a start in right field, and had a potential throwing play taken away from him by Austin Meadows, who was playing center field. Jaso was lined up to catch a fly ball and make a throw to get the runner at home. Meadows was running hard to his left and called Jaso off to make the catch, but didn’t have a shot at making the throw, due to his momentum. After the game, Hurdle praised Jaso’s work in the outfield, and said that he could learn to take charge of that in the future.

“I like what he’s doing out there. He’s making plays,” Hurdle said. “Actually, today, I told him if that happens again, call the center fielder off and make the play. You’re the guy lined up, you’ve got the momentum going. But truth be told, the center fielder called him off, he did what he’s supposed to do. He’s handled the plays that he had the opportunity to make. The routes have been pretty clean. It’s been good to watch him out there.”

**Trevor Williams threw four innings in a B-game against the Orioles down in Sarasota. Casey Sadler and Angel Sanchez each threw an inning in the same game.

  • the Pirates sure know how to devalue a player. Now they want Hanson, the best defensive second baseman in AAA the last two years, to be the designated runner. What a bowl of crap that is. His problem is he swings for the fences. The cure, don’t allow him to hit and make him the pitch runner. I hope he gets sent down and claimed by another team and gets to show his ability which appears to be lost on the Pirates.

  • He has a live arm but his issue was maturity. As he get older and sees more exposure in relief, he is going the right direction. No question the trade was a steal in that the Bucs got two pitchers with big upside. Eventually, he will be the 8th inning guy as Watson either declines or becomes a free agent.

  • So what was the result of the 3-2 change?

    • strikeout, first batter

      • What a great trade

        • terrygordon30
          March 17, 2017 11:02 pm

          No matter how well the trade turns out, this was an obvious Bob Nutting salary dump. Even the last snow storm was Bob Nuttings fault, and it will be remembered as as the Bob Nutting Snow Dump of 2017. There was supposed to be more snow, but Bob Nutting was too cheap to pay for the rest.

          • Best salary dump trade ever then…

          • Awww sarcasm, I love it!!!

          • A little early… but are there early indications the trade turned out well that I have missed?

            • Yeah, they got rid of 33 yr old so-so pitcher making between $ 13 and 14 million a year.

              • Oh so if Frank returns to his 2013-15 form or anywhere near it he’s not worth 13M a year??(by the way reports out of Toronto are he looks fantastic this Spring!) But cmon Leo the lemming! I’m waiting for you to feed me NH’s line that he would never be able to get National League hitters out again.

                Very early- but there is nothing right now that makes that trade a win for the Pirates. A lot of moving parts…

  • Hutchison will be this year’s Jeff Locke if they put him in the rotation.

    • Personally hoping Hutchison is not the 5th starter. I think the Pirates can do better than that.

      • At this point, I am not sure that they can. They’re all middling starters. And with TG’s consistency problems, it may be a black hole for awhile?

        • Hopefully kingham can fill it in a couple months worse case. I like out of the box thinking and I read something suggesting Leblanc as a possibility in the rotation plus juggling Brault and hutch per matchup killing time for Glasnow. It baked my noodle.

          • I wouldnt mind having Brault and either Hutchison or Trevor Williams piggybacking the #5 spot in the rotation. Then when Glasnow has ironed out some of the weaknesses of his game he takes the #5 spot outright and they can option one of the piggyback starters to Indy and keep the other as the long relief/swingman out of the pen. Highly doubt the front office is considering LeBlanc in the rotation since he isnt being stretched out for a starters workload in Spring Training.

            • Interesting concept piggyback starters, has any other MLB team ever seriously tried implementing this?

              • I cant think of any examples of it actually happening but I’ve advocated it for the Bucs the last season too mostly because the #5 rotation spot candidates are mostly unproven guys though I have more confidence in this years group than last years due to having an extra year of experience. Given the Pirates’ analytic approach it seems to me that the biggest market ineffiency to exploit is the fact that starters’ numbers drop off significantly going through the lineup a third time so why not let one guy start, go through the lineup twice, bring in another “starter” to do the same then turn it over to the bullpen if necessary. Especially if Brault is one of the two and youre switching from a lefty to a righty or vice versa it could cause matchup/lineup construction issues for the opposing manager too.

                • Brian Kenny has been pushing hard for this for a while, and I definitely agree. I think that the Rays tried something along these lines recently but it wasn’t publicized much.

                • Patrick Kelly
                  March 20, 2017 4:09 pm

                  Pretty sure the Rockies did this a few years ago and it didn’t go well. That very well could be due to the quality of pitchers, the park, or whatever.

        • Thats why pitchers like that are considered # 5 in a rotation.

      • I think it was between Glasnow, Hutchison & Brault for the 5th spot. Glasnow is heading to Indy. Brault has better spring numbers than Hutchison, but they’ll probably go with the latter, due to his MLB “experience”. Still hoping they’ll trade for a starter.

        • I talked to N.H. at the game against the Dominicans and I asked if they have any plans to add a veteran for the rotation. He said no way, they like their options with the kids, and specifically asked if I didn’t like Glasnow. Read into that what you want.

        • Brault’s numbers have been better, but aside from today, Hutch has actually looked sharper to me. I’m hoping today was an aberration, because I think he’ll be a decent #5 based on what I’ve seen otherwise.

          I like Brault better in the long run, and Glasnow, obviously, for the future, but right now, Hutch just looks the sharpest to me (again, aside from today).