BRADENTON, Fla. — The Pirates added to their bullpen on Saturday morning, signing left-handed veteran Kevin Siegrist to a minor-league contract.
That unit is starting to come into shape with Michael Feliz, George Kontos, and Siegrist likely joining Felipe Rivero at the back-end and the Pirates continuing to talk about an “apprenticeship” for Steven Brault and Tyler Glasnow as lengthier options.
The Pirates have shown a willingness over the years to play with the idea of strictly assigned bullpen roles, and last season, they attempted to used Rivero in a true fireman role before settling on him as the team’s closer. But even as closer, Rivero was routinely used as a multi-inning reliever.
Most of the additions to the bullpen share that quality. Kontos and Siegrist have largely been one-inning guys throughout their careers, but Feliz, Kyle Crick, Jordan Milbrath, A.J. Schugel, and others provide multi-inning options.
The Pirates see the ability to be flexible as a significant plus when it comes to the composition of the bullpen.
“More often than not, you want to have more of those guys than you do, because if it’s a one-inning guy, you’re really limiting your bullpen,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “You take three of your eight that are only one-inning and then if you don’t have a lead, and you don’t have lead for a couple days in a row, you’re putting the whip to some guys.”
Feliz seems to be a particular interesting piece in that he’s shown the ability to pitch multiple innings, but also has the stuff and potential to be a back-end option. Feliz has had a 3.58 and 2.67 xFIP over the last two seasons, but his ERA has been 5.63 and 4.43. That difference has come largely due to an elevated home run rate. He had a 17.9 HR/FB rate in 2016 and a 15.1 HR/FB rate in 2017. League average is usually around 9.5 percent.
Feliz said he thinks he can use better pitch selection and an improved repertoire when it comes to his secondary pitches to reverse that trend.
“It was selection,” he said. “This year, I want to attack more in the zone. There are more hitters that come to the plate, they’re out to beat different pitches. … I’m still working on my secondary pitches. That’s been a big focus for me for this offseason.”
His four-seam fastball went for a home run just 0.67 percent of the time, while his change-up (1.20 percent) and slider (1.24 percent) suffered worse fates. His fastball also went for a strike more than his off-speed offerings, so it seems that he’s looking toward using it more prominently than he has in the past. He’s used it around 66 percent of the time in the past.
Feliz was a starter as of 2015, so he only has two years under his belt as a reliever. He feels that he’s still refining his pitch selection and mindset, but that the flexibility he learned as a starter means he can pitch in a number of roles.
“I think I can pitch in the middle of the game or the back of the game, depending on how I’m needed,” he said. “It’s too early to tell about a role. My expectations right now are just about getting ready for the season.”
The Pirates bullpen is a large mix of new faces from outside the organization, young players that are looking for a promotion, and a few returning players. That’s created a group that’s made it easily to assimilate into as a new face.
“I’m just preparing my mind, making my new relationships,” Feliz said. “I’m kinda being the new guy, but I knew a couple people here before. There are other people coming from the Astros with me, and I know a little bit about a couple guys because we played against each other in the minor leagues. I think here, we have a lot of talent that we can build a great thing like they did in Houston.”