Pittsburgh Pirates Bullpen Closing the Door Early and Often


Considering how awful the bats have been throughout the first 18 games, the Pittsburgh Pirates should feel kind of good to be sitting at 8-10 throughout the first 18 games of the 2012 season.

Given the tough schedule featuring a plethora of the National League’s best starting pitching to open the season, 8-10 really isn’t that bad of a start, also looking at the fact that there was a five-game losing streak to open up their West Coast trip.

The sole reason the Pirates have been competitive to start the season  has been the outstanding performance from the pitching staff as a whole, which enters play against the Atlanta Braves on Friday with a 2.58 team ERA, the second best mark in all of baseball.

The starting rotation has been fantastic and you must have good starting pitching to win, but you also have to have a good bullpen.

Through 18 games, the Bucs’ bullpen has been lights out.

Despite financial constraints since he arrived in Pittsburgh, give general manager Neal Huntington a lot of credit. He’s been able to assemble an effective bullpen in just about every season he’s been on the job.

So far this season has been no different.

The impressive part is how the entire bullpen was acquired.

Closer Joel Hanrahan was acquired as a part of the Nyjer Morgan trade. Jason Grilli was signed in the middle of last season. Evan Meek was a Rule 5 selection. Chris Resop was claimed off waivers. Juan Cruz was a non-roster invitee to spring training.

Only Jared Hughes and Tony Watson are home-grown talent with Hughes being a 4th round pick in 2006 and Watson a 9th round pick in 2007.

Despite looking like a bunch of castoffs on paper, this Pirates bullpen has been great so far and if they keep thing up, they will have a huge impact on the success of the team, especially the starting rotation.

Hanrahan was locked in as the closer, but the two key parts to the bullpen have been Cruz and Grilli.

Grilli has settled in nicely as the setup guy and I like having the veteran pitching the eighth inning more often than not. To date, Grilli’s pitched seven innings and struck out 12 batters. He attacks the strike zone and just gets people out.

He’s made two bad pitches on the season, both ended up being hit out of the park, but Grilli is a very valuable arm in the Pirates pen.

Then there’s the former big prospect in Cruz, who’s been nearly unhittable so far in eight appearances. If Cruz is throwing strikes, which has been an issue throughout his career, he’s just another weapon for the Pirates late in games.

More importantly, if Cruz and Grilli can continue to pitch well, it bumps a guy like Resop to the seventh inning, which in turn shortens the game for the starting pitchers.

While everyone wants to see the Pirates spend more money at least when it has come to the bullpen, Huntington has done his best to make it a weapon without spending major dollars.

If they continue to come in and pitch well late in games, the Bucs might be able to put together a winning streak and stay competitive for a while, which at this point is all anyone can really ask.