Apr 6, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Jason Grilli (39) throws a pitch against the St. Louis Cardinals during the ninth inning at PNC Park. The Pirates won 2-1. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Pittsburgh Pirate Pitching Needs to Improve


The Pirate pitching staff needs to hit the reset button.

What was thought to be one of the strengths of the team coming into the season has proven not exactly up to the challenge just yet.  Ask Ryan Braun.

In regards to Jason Grilli, 3 blown saves in 7 opportunities is just bad pitching.  In fact, it’s the difference between 8-11 and 11-8.  The latter is where the Pirates should be.  Which isn’t bad, considering your 2 best hitters are dramatically under-performing and your leadoff man is ‘leading’ the entire league in nothing but strikeouts. (by 4)

The question is: How long do you stay with a former Ace closer when you have options like Watson and Melancon?  Well, let’s look at what the Oakland A’s did this year with a similar closer situation.

Jim Johnson had back to back 50 save seasons for the Orioles in 2012 and 2013. Oakland, who spends less money than the Pirates, went out and paid top dollar to bring him in.

He looked bad in his first 5 appearances and lost the closer role only 9 games into the season.  A move that was popular with the fans, but as a Manager, had to have taken a lot of courage to pull the trigger on.

Since then, however, Johnson has pitched flawlessly as a relief pitcher and looks like the closer of old.  I’m sure he’ll be getting many more chances to close games when he’s ready.

Hurdle is patient with players to a fault, but perhaps a change can be good for everyone.    Including Grilli.

In regards to the Shark Tank, all of our relievers are still pitching quite well.  Melancon, Pimental, Morris, and Watson all have 2.00 ERA’s or lower and Justin Wilson is not too far behind.  No need to worry about the bullpen.  Once/if the move is made at closer, we’ll start winning the tight ones again on a regular basis.

But let’s not just pick on Jason Grilli.  It is imperative that the starting pitching improves as well.  Let’s look at how our rotation has fared through the first 3 weeks of the season.

Francisco Liriano (0-3, 3.96 ERA)

Overall, Liriano looks good aside from a slow start against the Cards and a few mistake pitches against the Brewers.  He is pitching well and should throw another quality outing against the Reds tonight.  He’s the least of our worries.

Charlie Morton (0-2, 4.32 ERA)

Will the Charlie Morton that we saw in Spring Training  report to the Pirate dugout, please?  Morton was electric in the Spring and it seemed that a new and improved version of the Pirate #2 starter had emerged.

Unfortunately, the fastball that was hitting 95mph just a few weeks ago is now usually around 91, and the pitch selection that was once diverse has reverted back to sinker, after sinker, after sinker.  If you keep pumping it in there, especially if it’s low 90′s, eventually it gets hit… and hit hard.  Not sure if he’s figured that one out yet?

Overall, Morton needs to find the velocity.  It’s there?  I swear we just saw it a few weeks ago!  He also needs to keep mixing pitches so that opposing batters don’t tee off on the sinker the 2nd and 3rd time through the lineup.  Didn’t we hear something about a changeup, too?  How about trying that out every once in a while?

Wandy Rodriguez (0-2, 7.65 ERA)

Wandy, or as I like to refer to him, “Gone”dy, has been ugly from the word go.  One quality start (barely) in 4 outings and batters are feasting on that high 80’s heater.  “Gone”dy has given up 7 home runs in 4 games and hitters have a .306 average against him.

Overall, the bottom line is if you’re going to throw 88mph fast balls, they’d better not be right down the middle.  If I were Hurdle, Wandy gets 3 more starts.  If there’s not any improvement, maybe he comes down with a case of “shoulder discomfort” and hits the DL for a while.  We have other options.

Garret Cole (2-1, 3.67 ERA)

Cole is pitching better than the ERA suggests.  3 quality starts in 4 outings so far, and if it wasn’t for a blown save and a 2 home run 6th inning against Cincinnati, he’d have 4 quality starts in as many games along with 3 wins.  Cole is just fine.

Edinson Volquez (1-0, 1.71 ERA)

For those of you that read the articles and listen to the Big Tuna Show, you’ll know I was one of the few who said Edinson would be a serviceable 5.  I certainly didn’t expect this.

16 hits in 21 innings pitched, .095 WHIP, .213 BAA, 13/4 strike out to BB ratio, and 1 out shy of 3 quality starts in 3 games.  Wow.  Even if he regressed considerably, I think it’s safe to say we’ve already gotten more than most thought we would get out of Edinson Volquez.   I said MOST…..not all.

The good thing about this year is there is plenty of time to make adjustments.  The bad thing about it is that we lost our main adjustment option in Jameson Taillon, and that looks like it’s going to hurt a lot more than previously expected.

I imagine Grilli has a minimum of 1 more blown save before Hurdle makes the move, even if it’s temporary.  But again, maybe that will end up being good for everyone.

Including Grilli.

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