Back end of Pirates’ bullpen emerging, gaining confidence |
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Chris Adamski
Pirates closer Felipe Vazquez celebrates after getting a double play to end the game and defeat the Nationals, 6-3, Monday, July 9, 2018, at PNC Park.

As you walk into the Pirates’ clubhouse in the far right corner, a group lockers lined up in a neat row from right to left just happen to spell out the current pecking order of the team’s bullpen.

To the left of the aisle-abutting locker of Starling Marte and situated behind its own DJ table is Felipe Vazquez’s locker. To Vazquez’s left is Kyle Crick, and next to him is Edgar Santana. For good measure, a little farther down is Richard Rodriguez.

Those four just happen to form the Pirates’ relievers in order of decreasing leverage usage: Vazquez the closer, Crick the top set-up man, Santana the “seventh-inning guy” and Rodriguez – as was shown during Wednesday’s 2-0 shutout win against Washington – next.

Each has earned his role, too.

“We have really gotten into a sync as a group,” Crick said. “The mindset is the same no matter who’s out there – we’re just trying to get ahead of people and trying to put them away.

“We have talked it over in the bullpen a couple times about having that aggressive mindset: not going out there trying to feel for pitches, or not going out there trying to paint, but going out there trying to get people out. That’s what’s important. The difference from a month or two ago compared to now is just mindset.”

The Pirates bullpen is young and it’s had an up-and-down season. But in recent weeks, this four has established itself:

—- Vazquez has made 12 consecutive scoreless appearances, allowing nine baserunners and striking out 25 over 12 2/3 innings in that span.

—- Crick has limited hitters to a .148 average over his past 19 outings, allowing nine hits with 16 strikeouts over his past 17 1/3 innings.

—-Santana has not been scored upon during July, compiling a 10-to-0 strikeout-to-walk ratio with four hits allowed.

—- Rodriguez has allowed 40 baserunners as compared to 46 strikeouts in 36 innings over 31 games this season

“I think everybody… will tell you they have gone through a period where some success will breed some confidence in whatever you’re doing,” Hurdle said.

Other than Vazquez (himself only 26 and in his fourth MLB season), the other three of this new Pirates’ Big Four entered 2018 with a combined 54 games of major-league experience. All three are easily on pace to surpass that number alone in 2018.

“You have to have confidence that your stuff is good enough to get anybody out,” Crick said. “And I think that’s what we are all doing as a group right now.”

Chris Adamski is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chris at [email protected] or via Twitter @C_AdamskiTrib.

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