Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen: Who gets the last spot?

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The final two spots in the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen will likely come down to the wire, in conjunction with the final bench spot (which you can view my evaluation of here). Closer Mark Melancon, setup man Tony Watson, and 7th inning/middle relief option Antonio Bastardo are all but locks for the back end of the pen. Offseason acquisition Radhames Liz was given a major league contract, so unless the Pirates want to pay $1 million to a pitcher sitting in Triple-A (if he passes through waivers), Liz might as well be a lock. Clayton Richard also did not exercise his opt-out clause yesterday when the Pirates declined to add him to the 40-man roster, so he will be sent to extended spring training and then Triple-A Indianapolis for the time being. That leaves three pitchers to battle for two remaining spots: Jared Hughes, Arquimedes Caminero, and Stolmy Pimentel. Which two of them will make the Opening Day roster?

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The case for Jared Hughes

Hughes has been with the Pirates organization since 2011 and has pitched out of the pen in every season. He had a breakout year from the pen in 2014. In 64.1 innings pitched, Hughes had a 1.96 ERA and a 1.09 WHIP. He’s a presence on the mound, coming in at 6 feet 7 inches and 245 pounds, and he’s always noticeably energetic when he’s called in for relief duty. He’s relatively young (29) and 2014 may be a sign of things to come for Hughes.

The case for Arquimedes Caminero

Caminero has been exciting the Pirates fan base this spring with his gaudy strikeout numbers, burning 19 opposing batters in just 12.1 innings (to go along with a 2.92 ERA and just 1 walk) heading into Thursday. That’s been enough of a statement to get the attention of management, as he still remains in spring training after being acquired from the Miami Marlins for solely cash considerations. Caminero has always been a flamethrower on the mound, striking out 20 batters in 19.2 major league innings. However, in the limited chance he’s been given to prove himself at the major league level, Caminero has a 5.49 ERA. He’s only 27 and he’s a hard-throwing pitcher, which is always a good thing to be in relief. Will pitching coach Ray Searage be able to work his magic with this Dominican wonder?

The case for Stolmy Pimentel

Stolmy, Stolmy, Stolmy. What should the Pirates do with Stolmy? That is the million dollar question. It seems like Pimentel’s been in Pittsburgh forever, but he only has 42 innings pitched in the majors. That’s less than an average full season of work for many relief pitchers. In those 42 innings, Pimentel has a 4.50 ERA, which isn’t awful, but isn’t great either. The Pirates like his upside, and tried to work him into 32.2 randomly placed innings last year. He still has yet to truly prove himself, but if he is used properly this season (as opposed to his seemingly random use in 2014), he may start to round into the form that the Pirates thought they were getting from him when they acquired him as part of a package for Joel Hanrahan in 2012.

So, who will get the final two spots?

If the Pirates were going on talent alone, Jared Hughes and Arquimedes Caminero would probably be the two to make the team. However, another issue presents itself in this circumstance, as it is presenting itself in the battle for the last bench spot: options. Caminero and Pimentel have no minor league options remaining, yet Hughes does. Thus, the former two would have to clear waivers and accept an assignment to Triple-A if either didn’t make the team in order to remain with the Pirate organization. That’s a risk the Pirates may not want to take, especially considering Caminero and Pimentel are both seen by the organizaton as young, hard throwers with potential upside. Is it worth it to risk losing either pitcher?

I think Caminero has impressed enough in spring training to warrant a spot in the pen, and I don’t think the organization has completely given up on Pimentel yet after just 42 major league innings pitched. Watch for Hughes to be optioned to maintain pitching depth, and Caminero and Pimentel to make the team. This may come as a surprise to many, but it shouldn’t. If either of the latter does poorly, then the team can put one of them on waivers, opening the door for Hughes, John Holdzkom, or other pitchers.

Next: Breaking Down Pittsburgh Pirates Swing Mechanics - Part I

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