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Thread: Bullpen Improved Over 2009's

      
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    Default Bullpen Improved Over 2009's

    Bucs' bullpen much improved from '09

    Huntington shores up 'pen with addition of veterans

    By Jenifer Langosch / MLB.com
    02/12/10 12:46 PM EST


    This is the sixth part of a seven-installment series that will take a position-by-position look at the Pirates' roster heading into Spring Training.

    PITTSBURGH -- The Pirates' bullpen was going to be the weak link, especially after the departures of Matt Capps and Jesse Chavez left the 'pen with twice as many openings as it had spots filled. At least that seemed to be the prevailing public sentiment.

    But then, just as the concerns started piling up externally, general manager Neal Huntington went to work.
    Huntington vowed not to overspend on bullpen aid, noting the unreliability of year-to-year consistency. He touted the internal options that the club already had and the pitchers that had signed Minor League deals. And then -- beginning with the signing of Javier Lopez in late December and ending with the Octavio Dotel's in mid-January -- Huntington tapped into the free-agent market.

    The subtractions and subsequent additions have given the Pirates' bullpen a facelift. And in listening to Evan Meek, who will be one of the few 'pen holdovers from '09 to 2010, talk about it, the changes were necessary ones.
    "I think the bullpen this year is really going to surprise a lot of people," Meek said. "I don't think [manager John Russell] is going to hesitate to use us."

    Last year's bullpen was not among the team's strong suits. It certainly had its good individual stories -- Joel Hanrahan, John Grabow, Steven Jackson and Meek -- but it was not collectively dominant. The 'pen ranked 15th in the National League with a 4.61 ERA and had a league-low 28 saves. And only the Nationals had a worse strikeout-to-walk ratio and higher WHIP in the NL.

    So, is this bullpen built to be less of a liability in 2010? Statistics, even though they can be misleading when it comes to projecting reliever performance, would suggest that yes, the 'pen will be better.

    Replacing Capps at the back end will be Dotel, who hasn't closed for a full season since 2004, but who has been impressively consistent in his results this decade. Not only has Dotel, 36, amassed more strikeouts (855) since 2000 than any other pitcher in the Majors, but he has had a sub-4.00 ERA in seven of his last nine seasons.

    Dotel isn't the oldest newcomer in Pittsburgh. The 38-year-old Brendan Donnelly has that distinction. The right-hander, who was also signed in January, brings eight seasons of experience with him. Donnelly was dominant out of the Marlins' bullpen in 30 appearances last year, though the fact that he is less than three years removed from Tommy John surgery remains a slight concern.

    Assuming Donnelly can stay healthy and effective, he'll serve as a bridge to Dotel in the ninth.
    "I think anytime you can add veteran experience to the back end of the bullpen, you feel good about it," Huntington said. "In Dotel and Donnelly, we add some veteran back end presence that can help on and off the field."

    The additions of the two veteran relievers complement the younger Meek and Hanrahan, who will slide into late-inning roles without the pressure of having to be the most experienced options. Hanrahan excelled after a midseason traded landed him in Pittsburgh. Meek is coming off a year in which he established himself as big-league ready.

    "Those two guys have been around and you can learn a lot by watching those guys go about their business and what they do to prepare for a game," Hanrahan said. "The experience that they have is something you can't really teach. It's something that will be good for us."

    These four right-handers will have other company, of course. Lopez represents the left-handed option that the Pirates lacked and is looking to emulate the success that he had with the Red Sox from 2006-08.

    The final two spots are up for grabs. There are a couple of candidates on the 40-man roster -- Chris Jakubauskas and Kevin Hart, if he doesn't earn a rotation spot. However, the competition will also include a number of the 18 non-roster pitchers that have been invited to Spring Training.

    D.J Carrasco is arguably seen as the favorite among those non-roster invitees to land a spot in the 'pen. He was a part of the White Sox bullpen the past two seasons and was an especially reliable arm for Chicago last year.

    A number of other relievers will be in the mix, too. Highlighting that group in competition are Brian Bass, Brian Burres, Vinnie Chulk, Jackson, Jeff Karstens, Wilfredo Ledezma, Jack Taschner and Justin Thomas. All have some degree of previous Major League relief experience.

    "We feel like we're going to have some good competition not only in Spring Training but during the year as well," Huntington said. "We have a good mix. Competition is always a good thing and we like the arms that we've collected. We've given ourselves some depth for the season."

    Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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    Default Re: Bullpen Improved Over 2009's

    ....probably the most pleasant surprise for me about this year's team is how we have improved our bullpen.....Its unbelievable to think some of the guys listed WON'T make the team!!
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