Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Wilson To Indy Pen As Bucs Position Pitchers For Stretch Run

It wasn't really earthshattering stuff, but Clint Hurdle told the media before the game that Justin Wilson, who was part of Indianapolis' rotation, was being sent to the pen. The same thing happened last year and for the same reason - Wilson is a power arm with nice stuff, but just can't seem to get the rock over the dish.

He's averaging almost 5 walks/9 innings this year, just like last season. But this move doesn't seem so much a demotion as an opportunity for him to become a back-ender from the pen, or at least a LOOGY, something the Pirates could use about now with Brad Lincoln traded and Tony Watson as the only southpaw reliever.

As a starter, he was doing OK with all his peripheral stuff except for control. In 23 starts, he's 8-5/4.14 in 117-1/3 frames. Wilson has surrendered just 83 hits with a opponent BA of .197. He’s fanned 121 hitters (9.3/nine innings) but walked 63 (4.8/nine innings).

In 2011, Wilson had the same situation and worked nine games from the pen. The most noticeable difference was that his gas went from the low to the upper nineties, touching 99. We saw the same kind of velocity spike from Lincoln when he was able to let it all hang out as a reliever instead of pacing himself as a starter.

Wilson, who will turn 25 next week, was a fifth rounder out of Fresno State in 2008, but signed late after a strong CWS run. Maybe the bullpen will end up his niche, though he still holds more value as a starter. Farm director Kyle Stark told Rob Biertempfel of the Tribune Review that moving Wilson to bullpen is a "short-term ML depth move as opposed to what Justin Wilson can be long-term."

But at any rate, it shows the Pirates are ready to address any pitching needs internally if push comes to shove. RHP Chris Leroux (1-0/2.27), who has a sub-one ERA in his last three outings, will take Wilson's spot in the rotation, and he'll be stretched out if Pittsburgh needs a long man/spot starter in the coming weeks.

They also have righty Bryan Morris stashed at Indy if they're looking for a set-up guy. He's 2-2/2.57 with five saves and has punched out 63 batters in 67-1/3 frames. LHP pitcher Doug Slaten is available, too. He's been killing at Indy (3-1/1.25) and has big league experience as a middle man, though in a cup of coffee in Pittsburgh earlier this year he had problems with nibbling at the edges too much, walking eight in 13 IP.

Beside Leroux, the FO also has LHP Jeff Locke on the back burner if the call for another starter goes up. he's 9-5 with a 2.66 ERA and 1.224 WHIP, averaging 8 K and 3 BB per nine innings.

The Bucs tried to set their rotation at the deadline by grabbing the top mid-tier guy, Wandy Rodriguez, but didn't land any bullpen help except for middle man Chad Qualls. Now it appears that they're getting their minor league ducks in line for the short-term stretch run.

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