The Pittsburgh Pirates have been suffering from bullpen issues all season. They are third in the league in blown saves, and that trend continued when the Pirates blew yet another save on Saturday night. The Pirates have tried to upgrade their bullpen and avoid this problem, but nothing is going to improve with Clint Hurdle as the manager.
Many people were under the assumption that if the Pirates added better relief pitchers, the team’s bullpen would become more dominant. Well, the Pirates have replaced Ernesto Frieri and Stolmy Pimentel with Brandon Cumpton and John Axford. These are clear upgrades, but the bullpen is still struggling to close down games. That means that simply switching out pitchers is not the answer.
That leaves one possible explanation: the bullpen has been so bad because it is being managed incorrectly. Hurdle is putting pitchers in positions where they are likely to fail and cost the team a victory. That is something that happened on Saturday night. Tony Watson was used in the eighth inning, a good decision, but he gave up three runs. That is not Hurdle’s fault, but what transpired after is.
In the ninth inning, Hurdle decided to send Justin Wilson, a pitcher with poor control, to the mound with the game on the line. Wilson went on to walk one batter, let that batter get to second base on a wild pitch, then gave up a walk-off ground-rule double. It was a predictable result for someone like him. All of this happened while Mark Melancon and the new upgrade, Axford, sat in the bullpen and watched.
This is not the first time Hurdle has done this. In tie games against the St. Louis Cardinals in July, Hurdle used Wilson and Frieri, and both pitchers predictably gave up walk-off home runs while Melancon watched from the bullpen.
It is understandable that Hurdle has not had many options this season and can’t pitch Melancon in every game, but that wouldn’t be a problem if he used Melancon better. Melancon has pitched in games that were 3-0 or 4-0 on several occasions, but has sat out in tie games and one-run games because of overuse.
Granted, Melancon is a closer and his job is to get saves, but shouldn’t the best pitcher available be pitching in the most crucial situations?
Many managers follow the same strategy as Hurdle, but that does not make it right. So, it does not matter how many relief pitchers Neal Huntington can bring in; as long as Hurdle is managing the team, the bullpen will continue to blow leads and cost the Pirates important games down the stretch.