PITTSBURGH — Cincinnati is experimenting with a new bullpen look in 2017. Reds manager Bryan Price has eschewed traditional roles for a group of receivers that can go multiple innings and pitch anywhere from the sixth inning to the ninth.
It’s a trend that may have gained steam with Cleveland manager Terry Francona’s use of Andrew Miller last season, and Price’s bullpen full of young arms provided fertile ground for a new idea.
“Don’t worry about saves, holds just help us shake hands after the game,” Price said on Monday.
Tony Cingrani led the team in saves in 2016, but so far it’s been Raisel Iglesias with three and Drew Storen with one this year. Iglesias had a 1 2/3 inning save on Tuesday and had a two-inning save earlier this season.
It’s a strategy that sabermetricians have long advocated, and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle admitted that he’s curious to see how it works out.
“In a perfect world, it sets up and it makes sense,” he said. “We’ll see how it works out but I like the idea. They’re being creative.” Hurdle said that the Reds’ situation, with a team full of young player that wasn’t expected to compete, is the perfect time to experiment.
“When you have some young guys like that are hungry and just want opportunities to pitch, they don’t have routines they fall into,” Hurdle said. “They don’t have roles where they’ve had success.”
He added that he thought a potential obstacle to further implementation of that type of bullpen would be a level of buy-in from players whose contracts are based on accumulating stats such as saves.
“There’s the human analytics part of it with some of these guys that you work through, as well,” Hurdle said. “When you have a guy like Andrew Miller that became the poster guy and you peel back the layers, he’s also got a contract. He’s also done some things and has already pitched in those other roles.”
The Pirates seem to have settled into some pretty clearly defined roles in the back of the bullpen, with Felipe Rivero, Daniel Hudson and Tony Watson pitching the seventh, eighth and ninth innings of close games. But Hurdle has secured some of the flexibility Price is looking for in the form of Juan Nicasio.
Nicasio can pitch multiple innings, come into the middle of an inning and throw in late-game situations and Hurdle plans on using him as a jack-of-all-trades that can handle the most pressing role for the bullpen on any given night.
“It’s a good things, because [Hurdle] believes in me to do my job,” Nicasio said. “When the manager of the team believes in you in whatever situation, you’re feeling good.”
Nicasio said that his new role has kept him more engaged in the games than usual from the bullpen, because he has to be ready at pretty much any moment to come into the game.
“It’s a little different,” he said “After the fifth inning, I never know what call [to the bullpen] will be me. Maybe the next call is me. Or somebody else. But I have to be ready from the fifth inning on.”
Hurdle didn’t say that he has plans to implement more of that type of role for this team, but he did say it’s something they’re hoping to instill in their young pitchers.
“What we’re trying to do now is grow our pitchers up in those roles with the flexibly and versatility in our organization so that when they get here, there’s no mind for them.” he said. “They’ve already been doing it.”
ONE PITCH AWAY
One of the young players who’s making the transition from a starter’s role to the bullpen is Trevor Williams, and that process hit a hiccup on Tuesday, as he gave up a three-run home run to Scooter Gennett. I asked Williams if it was just one pitch or if he didn’t feel good about his entire two-inning outing.
“It was a lack of execution on the changeup to Gennett,” Williams said. “I should have gone at it more aggressively. I had two guys on and I had the opportunity to get out of the inning with no runs and keep their lead with one.”
Williams said the transition from starter to reliever means he needs to be cognizant of being more aggressive with hitters. On the flip side, it probably won’t take him five days to get back out and get another shot.
“I can have an opportunity to get him out tonight and I’m looking forward to that,” Williams said.
Ivan Nova vs Amir Garrett
— Alan Saunders (@ASaunders_PGH) April 12, 2017
Gregory Polanco was given the night off to rest his shoulder. He is still dealing with some occasional discomfort throwing. … Reds starter Amir Garrett had a 0.87 WHIP against left-handers in the minors in 2017. … Jordy Mercer will lead off. He’s 0-for-8 hitting first this season.