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Pirates notebook: Bullpen’s depth, versatility peaks

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Christopher Horner | Trib Total Media
Pirates reliever Joe Blanton (right) enters the game during the seventh inning against the Diamondbacks on Monday, Aug. 17, 2015, at PNC Park.

Late in Saturday’s game with the New York Mets, pitchers in the Pirates’ bullpen found themselves looking at each other in uncertainty.

None among them knew who would get the chance to pitch in the final couple of innings with the score tied.

All of them seemed like strong and logical candidates.

“We said, ‘It could be any of us right now,’ ” right-hander Jared Hughes said. “I think it ended up being (Tony) Watson.”

There’s an abundance of relievers with peaking confidence at the Pirates’ disposal. Seven of them combined for two walks, 17 strikeouts, one run and six hits allowed in 16 13 innings during the Mets series.

“To have the weekend we had, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen anything like that,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “I said whoever that guy was (who allowed the run), we’ll get rid of him. I found out it was Melancon, so we can’t do that.”

What’s increasingly difficult for the relievers to guess amid the recent success is where they might factor into the next strong collective performance in a tight game. There’s been no shortage of opportunities to develop theories — a Pirates reliever earned the pitching win seven times in eight victories from Aug. 5 through Sunday.

“We all want to get in there and pitch when everything is on the line like that,” Hughes said. “I know me, personally, if there are guys on base in the middle of the inning, I’m going to be ready. I get the ground ball. If they need that double play, I can be that guy (to induce it).”

There’s a reliever for almost any situation: Hughes gets ground balls; Antonio Bastardo and Watson provide left-on-left matchup options; hard-throwing right-hander Arquimedes Caminero piles up strikeouts.

“You’ve got to have a collective unit that can protect different things and do different things,” Hurdle said. “That just gives you different opportunities to stay in games, to come from behind and win games, and then obviously to shorten games.

“Everybody is in as good a place as they’ve been in all season.”

The depth and versatility of the bullpen became apparent because of a poor stretch for Pirates starters. Charlie Morton pitched more than six innings just three times in his last eight outings. Jeff Locke and Francisco Liriano each surpassed six innings just twice since the start of July. Even Gerrit Cole had not gone more than six innings in an August start entering Monday’s outing against the Arizona Diamondbacks.

“We’re fortunate that (a short outing from a starter) has happened a few times to us, and that other group — whether it be (Joe) Blanton, whether it be Caminero, whether it be Bastardo, whether it be Hughes — has squared up and gone toe to toe with whatever has come their way,” Hurdle said. “They’ve kept the game right there, giving us an opportunity to bounce back.”

More SNB

The Pirates’ Sept. 6 game at St. Louis will appear on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” telecast. Scheduled to start at 8:05 p.m., the game will be the Pirates’ fourth to happen under ESPN’s Sunday night spotlight.

Revisting Hart

Bench bat Corey Hart, who went on the disabled list June 24 with a left shoulder impingement but began to struggle with a nagging right knee during his recovery, will give rehabilitation another go beginning Thursday with Triple-A Indianapolis.

Hart appeared in seven games with the Indians from June 30 to July 11 and had a .570 on-base plus slugging percentage. After Hart’s right knee, a source of trouble even before he joined the team as a free agent in December, became problematic, the Pirates allowed him to go home and rest in late July.

“I think I was trying to overdo it, trying to push it, and then I think I got ahead of myself and kind of made the knee a little worse than it was,” Hart said. “I’m making sure I give myself a chance to get back on the road and get better so hopefully I can get back on the roster. These guys are playing well, so it’d be nice to get back with them.”

Snider close to decision

Outfielder Travis Snider, who was released Saturday by the Baltimore Orioles, has not ruled out rejoining the Pirates.

“I’m talking with multiple teams, including the Pirates,” Snider said Monday via text message. “Hope to have a decision made soon.”

In January, the Pirates traded Snider for minor league pitchers Steven Brault and Stephen Tarpley. He had a .659 OPS in 69 games with the Orioles before being designated for assignment Aug. 7.

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