The Pittsburgh Pirates are in immediate need of an experienced relief pitcher capable of holding leads after the 7th inning. The candidate must possess a fastball with an average velocity of 92 mph or greater and demonstrate reasonable proficiency at throwing strikes. A 50% ground ball rate is not required but is a plus. Duties of the position include entering the game in the 6th inning or later to maintain a lead or tie game and not allowing any baseballs to leave the yard. The candidate may be asked to enter the game as early as the 4th inning on days that Mr. Nibbles Jeff Locke is the scheduled starting pitcher. For immediate consideration report to the visiting clubhouse at Coors Field in Denver Colorado and ask to meet with pitching coach Ray Searage.
The Pirates are set to embark on the 2016 baseball season in which it is widely believed they will once again be the bridesmaids of the NL Central. The Pirates have been strong contenders for three years running, but none of those season were quite good enough to claim the NL Central Division Crown. If the Pirates are going leap frog the Cardinals, stave off the Cubs, and avoid the Roulette Wheel that is the Wild Card Game they will have to overcome a few soft spots in the make up of this year’s squad. GM Neal Huntington has built another deep team that should be able to weather the rigors of a long baseball season. But this team still has a few flaws. The most glaring is the middle of the rotation.
If Gerrit Cole and Francisco Liriano can remain healthy the Pirates have a formidable one-two punch at the front of the rotation. And the Bucs have a plethora of options at the back of the rotation that are competent major league pitchers. It is frustrating watching Jeff Locke reprise his role as Mr. Nibbles, but Locke is better than what most of the teams in baseball are using as a 5th starter. Where the rotation is soft is in the middle. Huntington chose to address the rotation during the offseason by compensating for it. Instead of acquiring a strong middle of the rotation pitcher (and I do not consider Jon Niese to fit that description), Huntington chose to invest in high end middle relievers that throw hard. The plan makes a lot of sense. Limit the exposure of your soft tossing middle rotation pitchers by only expecting 5 innings from them. Then turn the ball over to guys that throw gas like Arquimedes Caminero and new acquisitions Juan Nicasio and Neftali Feliz. But a funny thing happened in Spring Training – Nicasio dominated while getting his work in as a starter early in Grapefruit League action. The Pirates wisely reconsidered Nicasio’s role. Nicasio will start the season in the rotation.
Nicasio goes from being a key piece in the new plan to use high end middle relievers to build a bridge earlier in the middle innings to now being the best hope of executing the old blueprint the Pirates used over the past several seasons to build a formidable rotation. The Buccos have gotten a lot of mileage by acquiring starting pitchers that have struggled with command but have swing and miss stuff. The coaching staff has done a tremendous job of fixing these types of pitchers and turning them into front line starters. Examples include A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, Edinson Volquez, J.A. Happ… and now Juan Nicasio fits that mold. If Nicasio can become the next Burnirianoquez that soft spot in the middle of the Pirates rotation gets much firmer. That could make all thee difference in whether or not the Pirates are bridemaids once again or if they will be saying “I Do” to a NL Central Division Crown in September.