Article by Staff Writer – John Toperzer
Should the Pirates be concerned with Felipe Rivero’s spring performance?
He allowed 11 runs (four earned) on seven hits and five walks in seven innings, striking out eight. The two homers he surrendered were half as many as he served up all of 2017.
Typically, Grapefruit League numbers can be taken with a grain of salt. However, Rivero wasn’t particularly impressive in August and September of 2017, either. He compiled a 4.15 ERA in 21.2 innings. Again, earned-run averages don’t mean as much for relievers as they do starters, given the small sample sizes, but Rivero just wasn’t dominant late last year. His hard-contact rate over the last two months was 38 percent, according to Fan Graphs.
It’s possible, maybe even probable, that his decline was due to over-usage. Rivero rested more than usual in the offseason, but management told him he might be needed for more than his share of four-and five-out save opportunities.
Add that to the pressure he may feel after signing a $22 million extension and it wouldn’t be surprising to see him struggle for a bit.
Of course, simply getting the ball from the team’s mishmash of middle inning relievers to Michael Feliz and then to George Kontos might be a harder magical trick to pull off.
— Starling Marte has played in more than 135 games only one time in his career.
— I don’t get the Pirates’ infatuation with Daniel Nava. Nava just signed a minor-league contract with Pittsburgh on Friday. He’s damaged goods and isn’t very good when he’s not damaged. At 35 years of age, he’s more than two full years older than the Bucs’ new studio analyst, Michael McKenry.
— By the way, best of luck to retired analyst, Kent Tekulve. It was cool to see him put up a 10-1 record in 1977 as a setup man in front of Rich “Goose” Gossage.
— The pitching rotation is decent enough while the bullpen definitely won’t end 2018 with the same pitchers it starts with. The upside of Michael Feliz is real, but only if he throws enough strikes. His 13.13 K/9 is off the charts
— Watching Mike Francesa appear as a guest on Christopher “Mad Dog” Russo’s High Heat program Wednesday, Francesa compared a reunion show with Russo on WFAN nearly as unlikely as a Ray-Pirates World Series matchup. Apparently the Bucs have fallen that far, according to Francesa.
— Corey Dickerson is 6-for-10 with two doubles and a dinger in his career against Opening Day starter Jordan Zimmermann. Starling Marte, on the other hand, has one hit in 10 at-bats off the Detroit starter. Look no farther than those numbers as to why Marte is batting sixth in the lineup Thursday.
— It will be interesting to see how the Pirates round out their 40-man roster as time passes — they currently have only 37 men on the 40-man.
— After allowing eight runs in Dodger Stadium in his first start last season, Trevor Williams settled down and slowly grew into the team’s most reliable starter. While his inability to field his position and throw the ball to first base was comical in his first start at Dodger Stadium, there was nothing funny about the rest of his season.
Williams registered a 3.65 ERA in 24 starts (135.2 innings) after the first start in Los Angeles. Not including three games against St. Louis, the earned-run average improves further to 3.09 (in 122.1 innings).
Some folks are hoping for Williams to pitch even better in 2018. If he’s simply able to replicate his performance then he’ll be giving his team an opportunity to win whenever he’s on the mound.
— Chad Kuhl ended 2017 right there with Williams but he’s seemingly taken a step back this spring. His composite spring numbers — 10.06 ERA, 2.06 WHIP, 14:9 K:BB in 17 innings – are frustrating to all involved. He could feel pressure to keep his spot in the rotation if his ineffectiveness carries over into the regular season.
— Pittsburgh used only seven starters in 2017. By comparison, the team needed 14 starters in 2016. Tyler Glasnow, Steven Brault, and Nick Kingham loom as potential replacements. The team also hasn’t shied away from spot-starting the hot starter-of-the-day from Triple-A Indianapolis, too, even if he isn’t highly touted.
— Adam Frazier’s path to steady playing time is muddled by the lack of an open position. With Dickerson occupying left field and Josh Harrison manning second base, Frazier might have to take a seat after DHing in Detroit. Of course, it’s probably just a matter of time before injuries strike (knocking on wood).