The Pittsburgh Pirates have an absolute weapon in the back end of their bullpen, and that weapon’s name is Tony Watson. Yet some fans believe that Clint Hurdle is relying on him too much this season. The case in point being last night’s 5-2 win against the San Diego Padres. With Charlie Morton doing Charlie Morton things and cruising into the eighth inning, Hurdle elected to call on the left from the bullpen rather than allow Morton to continue. A small minority of fans cried foul, exclaiming that there was no need to bring in Watson. This, even after Hurdle has already recognized the need to treat Watson’s workload carefully, as pointed out by Rob Biertempfel in the Tribune Review:
"“I’m much more comfortable about it now than I was two weeks ago,” Hurdle said. “Even prior to this last turn through the rotation, the length we’ve gotten from our starters and the opportunity for some other guys (in the bullpen) to step up and give us some meaningful innings to finish games so we could stay away from Watson, and (Jared) Hughes has really helped.”"
For his part, even though it was his birthday on Saturday, Watson gave the Pirates a present, striking out all three batters he faced. So here we are, the day after, and Pittsburgh Pirates fans are still debating Watson’s use. One of our loyal readers, Jim, had this to say:
Poising the question to the twitterverse today, the response has turned somewhat.
Matt, coincidentally the editor of FanSided’s Pittsburgh locals site City Of Champions, brings up an excellent point. Tony Watson has been absolutely untouchable since his Opening Day hiccup, After serving up a three run home run to Todd Frazier that day, Watson has allowed exactly one run, and that was way back on April 21st against the Cubs, seemingly a lifetime ago. Thus far in the first two months of the 2015 season, Watson has pitched 28 innings in 26 appearances, and those 26 are good enough for the most in the National League.
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Of course, the conundrum that fans and the coaching staff alike is that we can’t possibly quantify on May 31st how this early season workload may affect Watson in late September. We can look to last year’s late-season performance as a good barometer. Watson set career highs in innings pitched (77.1) and appearances (78, tied for the most in the NL), and answered the bell masterfully, earning his first all-star nod. Looking at his September performance from 2014, Watson only showed slight signs of fatigue, such as allowing 12 hits over 13.1 innings, yet maintained an excellent strikeout-to-walk ratio of 16:2 while only allowing two runs all month.
All of this has been some happy tap-dancing around the question, but to answer it directly: no. The Pittsburgh Pirates are not using Tony Watson too much at this point in the year. While I do believe that Hurdle should have let Morton at least start the eighth inning, he knows what he has in his setup man, knows his limits, and knows what he can get out of him. As the quote from Biertempfel’s piece above illustrates, Hurdle also knows when to let off the gas at times.
When you are trying to stack wins early in the year after a bad start, or pick up a win after showering well and forgetting the previous night, your best pitchers have to pitch.