Tony Watson, Jared Hughes realize dreams, making contributions in the bullpen


The Pirates currently have the third best bullpen ERA in the Major Leagues, and it has been a huge reason why the Pirates are currently a .500 ball club and third in the NL Central.

Reliever Jared Hughes believes that a bullpen gathering off the field epitomizes why they have been so successful thus far in the season.

“We were in Washington and they had this Connect Four game, they put on the table and we were all going up against each other,” Hughes said. “It was just this intense competition between all of us and it felt like there could have been a fight. We’re all super competitive guys, and I think that’s the reason we’ve had success.”

Both Hughes as well as Tony Watson are integral members of the Pirates bullpen despite not having a designated inning with which to pitch.

Manager Clint Hurdle stated at PirateFest in December that most of the relievers were told that last season their job was not to mess up and to get the ball to closer Joel Hanrahan.

This year, Watson believes that he holds this same role this season.

Watson first made a name for himself at Dallas Center-Grimes High School which located in Grimes, Iowa. There, he was a three sport athlete also playing basketball and football before ultimately deciding on baseball.

The choice paid dividends for Watson as he won the Bob Feller Award as the Iowa High School Pitcher-of-the-Year in 2003, his senior season. His accomplishments included throwing three no-hitters and compiling an Iowa state record 0.10 ERA.

The Florida Marlins drafted Watson in the 23rd round of the MLB Draft that year but he turned them down. He also was drafted in the 17th round of the 2007 MLB Draft, but decided to stay in school.

I just didn’t feel like I was ready for the professional experience,” Watson said. “I have four years of college under my belt and I have no regrets and I am still doing what I set out to do in the beginning. It doesn’t hurt that I enjoyed the four years and met some of my best friends that I’ll have forever there.”

Watson attended college at Nebraska University. It was a tough start for Watson’s college baseball career though, because in 2004, he had to take a medical redshirt.

“I had shoulder surgery in 2004, and it was definitely a tough road to rehab but it taught me a lot about myself physically and mentally,” Watson said. “It was a lot of work to get over the hump of having to get my shoulder back to normal.”

Watson persevered though, and went 22-7 and serving as a starter for his last two seasons. He was drafted by the Pirates in the ninth round of the 2007 MLB Draft, and made the decision to start his professional career.

He started the 2007 season splitting time between State College and Hickory [previously a Pirates class-A affiliate and now a part of the Texas Rangers Minor League system] and very slowly started moving up in the system. He moved up to the Double-A Altoona Curve in 2009 and hit another wall going 0-3 with an 8.22 ERA. He rebounded in 2010 going 6-4 with a 2.67 ERA. He started the 2011 season with the Triple-A Indianapolis Indians and went 2-2 with a 2.36 ERA. With Jose Ascanio struggling in relief for the Pirates, something had to be done and on June 7, 2011 Watson officially became a Pirate.

The journey for Jared Hughes also had its ups and downs. In his junior year at Santa Margarita High School, Hughes was highly regarded and assessed why he thought this was.

“I threw really hard and I had no idea where it was going,” Hughes said. “It was one of those things where I needed to mature and find a way to throw strikes. I went to college and did that and went to the Minor Leagues and progressed and started to get command of my two-seam fastball. I might have been a top prospect, but I wasn’t ready yet.”

His senior season diminished his stock and he wound up attending Santa Clara University in 2004. This was perhaps his lowest point when he realized that it was not the place for him to be. This caused a transfer to Long Beach State University.

“It was definitely a low point and it was such a tough time,” Hughes said. “I was so lucky to find Long Beach State and the coaches there Mike Weathers and Troy Buckley, they believed in me, they showed confidence in me and they helped me get my feet back on the ground.”

There Hughes played two seasons and got to play with two highly regarded players in Troy Tulowitzki and Evan Longoria. These two do not just contribute with their offense but just as much with their defense, something Hughes was a beneficiary of.

“I tell everybody that was the reason that I got drafted because they were on the left side of the infield, and all I had to do give up groundballs and they fielded everything for me,” Hughes said. “It was a definite pleasure as a groundball pitcher to have them in my infield.”

Hughes was drafted by the Pirates in the fourth round of the 2006 MLB Draft and split time that season with Williamsport and Hickory. While Hughes found some success at Williamsport, his 5.77 ERA at Hickory was a tough pill to swallow.

“Early on in the minor leagues, I was just excited to be playing,” Hughes said. “When I went to Williamsport, it was just a new experience and I wasn’t there very long and got called up to Hickory. It was a little bit advanced level of play and they were able to hit my mistakes better and I had to adjust and get the ball down to pitch to the better hitters.”

Much like Watson, Hughes slowly progressed upwards in the system, although it came as a bit of a surprise as he was a fourth round draft pick. He had stops in Lynchburg and Altoona in 2008. He remained in Altoona thru the early stages of the 2011 season. The call to Indianapolis came and brought change, and something that became a breakthrough moment for Hughes, pitching in the bullpen instead of starting.

“That moment came in Triple-A when I got called up last year and having a chance to prove myself going out there and struggling at first but then developing a more aggressive mindset out of the bullpen and being able to go out there and give it my all,” Hughes said. “I had a catcher, Kris Watts that came up to me and said, ‘Hey Jared, I know you’ve been struggling but here you’ve got a chance. Go out there, leave nothing out there, and be a freak’.”

Hughes got the call up to the Pirates on September 6, 2011 and found success early before having a rough couple of outings to end his 2011 season.

Now in 2012, Hughes has been up with the Pirates for most of the season, but has spent time back in Indianapolis.

Much has been made how the generally well-mannered Hughes switches gears once he toes the rubber, and it is a reason why he has the lowest ERA among National League rookies. Hughes tries to explain his philosophy when he pitches.

“If you’re trapped in the corner and it’s time to fight, what are you going to do,” Hughes said. “You’re going to be pumped up and get ready to fight. So that’s just me in fight mode out there.”

Knowing they have overcome barriers that could easily have brought them down or even their career, both Hughes and Watson are members of the Pirates bullpen and they know that they will be called upon to try and help the Pirates win ballgames.

“We’re all competitive guys and at the end of the day, the ultimate goal is to win the game so whatever we’re put in, we have to come in with a level of concentration and aggressiveness that will help the team get the ‘w’ overall,” Watson said.