The Pittsburgh Pirates begin a three game series against the Texas Rangers in Arlington.
With the Pirates up 5-3 in the bottom of the eighth Thursday, closer Mark Melancon began warming up for a potential save opportunity. In the inning, the Bucs’ added 3 runs to increase their lead to 8-3, making it a non-save situation.
Instead of going to another reliever, Clint Hurdle stuck with Mark the Shark for the top of the ninth. Twenty-four pitches later, Melancon was able to finish off the Diamondbacks, capping off the series sweep. Despite the ineffectiveness of much of the bullpen, continuing to overuse the veteran closer could come back to haunt Hurdle.
Since being acquired before the 2013 season in a trade with the Red Sox, Melancon has pitched in at least 72 games including 78 last year. Coming into 2016, the 2-time All-Star had logged 218.2 innings in a Pirates uniforms. Before arriving in Pittsburgh, he racked up 157 innings over 5 seasons split between the Yankees, Astros and Red Sox.
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So far in 2016, Melancon has appeared in 24 of the Pirates 46 games, putting him on pace to appear in just over half the team’s 162 games. He’s converted 16 saves in 17 chances, blowing his only save last month against Arizona. But thanks to the struggles of the bullpen, five of those saves have come in less than one inning of work. The shark’s ERA is actually lower than it was at this point in 2015 (2.11 in 2016, 2.86 in 2015).
Even with his success, Hurdle has to start limiting his use of Melancon, only using the star closer in save situations or very close games. He is no spring chicken at 31 years old and with close to $10 million invested in him for 2016, the Pirates cannot forward wearing down the Shark.
This was the exact reason Neal Huntington signed Neftali Feliz in the offseason. The Dominican born right hander has experience finishing out game with 97 saves in his career including 40 in 2010 for the Rangers. Hurdle was the hitting coach for Texas that season, where they made it all the way to the World Series before falling to the Giants. Feliz has looked solid after shaking off a rough stretch in late April, lowering his ERA to 3.24 after it ballooned to over 5.
The rest of the bullpen should eventually advert back to its shark tank form of year’s past. Jared Hughes has pitched well since returning from injury while Tony Watson continues to be elementary. Rookie Wilfredo Boscan has looked good in his two appearances since being called up from AAA, but A.J. Shugel and Kyle Lobstein have looked shaky in their combined 23 outings.
Arquimedes Caminero was put on the disabled list this week with a quad injury this week. That is a blessing since the fire baller has struggled with control issues in 2016, looking down right awful in most of his appearances.
If the Pirates hope to continue their pursuit of a NL Central title, keeping Melancon sharp and healthy must be one of their top priorities.