By Jared Lankes
The Pirates bullpen has seen its fair share of ups and downs throughout the season. It has been a very bumpy road for them, with players consistently getting swapped out to keep them fresh. However, as of right now, the Pirates bullpen has been trending upwards over the last week or so. We’ve seen this before with this team. Though, this time, I don’t think it is just a phase. Nope, I think it is here to stay.
The first thing that will need noted is Juan Nicasio. Though he hasn’t seen much action out of the pen yet, he has created enough of a difference in the bullpen by just his presence alone. I am going to compare it to Blanton from last year, not in the player by player comparison, but the presence rather. Joe Blanton in 2015 was able to come in and change the whole bullpen dynamic, while pitching well to boot. His ability to be used in both roles as a hybrid player was very convenient to how the entire bullpen is used. Clint Hurdle could use relievers way differently and more out of what he wanted to do, not what he needed to do. I think Nicasio could provide similar stuff. He could be filthy for 1-2 innings, but then also give you 3-4 innings for length other times. If he pitches effectively, then there shouldn’t be a problem.
A very easy transition from Nicasio is AJ Schugel. Both have very similar features while being completely different pitchers. What they both do similarly is they are nastier in shorter outings, like I mentioned above for Nicasio, while both being able to give the Pirates innings if needed. Another hybrid guy. The difference is that Schugel relies more on offspeed stuff, mainly that changeup that is one of the most valuable pitches in baseball according to many. Schugel has also had a very incredible June that has propelled him into being a very good relief option in the league, above average in fact.
The other five guys in this bullpen will be used according to how Nicasio and Schugel are used. This and of course how the starters do. Pirates bullpen will rely on these two to help shape this bullpen back into a good one like it once was.
Besides those two, there are two relievers that need to be better than they are now, and those are Jared Hughes and Arquimedes Caminero. Both, showing signs of life lately, have to return at least close to 2015 form. For that to happen, Hughes needs sinker command back to get his GB% back, which in turn will lead to less fly balls and hard contact. As for Caminero, it’s all about the fastball for him. His best nights, he can control that fastball and get hitters on a string with everything else he’s got. These two looking better lately gives me hope that they are capable of continuing this upward tick.
I’m not worried about the big 3 at the bottom at all. Neftali Feliz, Tony Watson, Mark Melancon have been very reliable outside of a select few occasions, which happens from time to time. If you are going to worry about one, it would be Feliz, but there’s not much to worry about. He’s been one of the best 7th inning guys in the game, and even has been used in the 8th if the matchups favor him over Watson. The former all-star closer has been a great commodity to have as early as the 7th. And of course Melancon has been one of the best closers in the game, as we all know. There is really never a reason to really worry about Mark Melancon at all.
The bullpen isn’t as good as it has been in previous years, and we will have to accept that reality. However, there is no reason the bullpen put together this year cannot get the job done. I get that they’ve had problems, but if these pitchers do what many think they can and will, this team shouldn’t have a problem when Hurdle does make that call to the bullpen.