One of the biggest strengths of the 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates has been their bullpen, which ranks fourth in the National League with a 2.92 ERA (entering Thursday night’s game against the New York Mets).
A big part of their success has been the performance of Mark Melancon in the eighth-inning role. He has been an absolute rock, allowing only one earned run in 17 innings of work. In addition to his 0.53 ERA, Melancon has struck out 17 and allowed only 10 hits and no walks, posting a ridiculous 0.58 WHIP.
However despite his great start, there has to be some concern that Melancon could get overworked before long.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle usually does a good job in keeping his bullpen arms fresh, but with that being said, Melancon’s 17 appearances tie him for the third-most in the National League right now.
The Pirates need Melancon out there to win games, but ultimately Hurdle is going to have to watch every guy in the pen. The Pirates starters could do their part in softening the load on the bullpen, but that doesn’t appear to be an option at the moment.
To date, Pirates starting pitchers have combined to throw only 168.2 innings, which is the fourth-lowest total in all of baseball. On that note, the Pirates relievers have had to throw 120.1 innings already on the young season, which is the third-highest total in baseball.
That’s not a good recipe for winning consistently.
The Melancon-Jason Grilli eighth-and-ninth-inning combination has proven to be equally as impressive as the Grilli-Joel Hanrahan duo of a season ago. While that is a weapon that Hurdle has the luxury of turning to late in a game, he has to be careful not to wear his bullpen down for the long run.
If the Pirates starters don’t start getting deeper into games, it’s almost inevitable that the bullpen will become overtaxed.
If that becomes the case, the Pirates’ biggest strength could turn into one of their weaknesses before you know it.