Melancon answers call as Pirates' bullpen dominates in win

Three relievers, starter Cole face minimum over final 7 1/3 innings

Melancon answers call as Pirates' bullpen dominates in win

PITTSBURGH -- For the first time in a dozen games -- and, really, for the first time in 6 1/2 months -- Mark Melancon got to do his thing on Sunday. He began the ninth inning of a game waiting to be saved.

Three batters later, the job was done and the Pirates had a sweep-ending 5-2 win over Milwaukee at PNC Park that evened their record at 6-6. Of the six victories, however, this was the first in which the Bucs entered the ninth with a lead of fewer than four runs -- a prerequisite for a save.

"I know … strange, huh?" Melancon said. "But there really isn't an adjustment to make because every time I go in there, I treat it as a save situation, no matter what the score is."

In Spring Training, closers, as you may know, generally work in the middle of exhibition games to ensure that they get to face the opposition's mainliners. So Melancon had not been in the situation he faced on Sunday since September.

He did have a prior 2015 save, but that came about as he rescued Antonio Bastardo after the Brewers had scored to trim a 6-2 deficit in the opener of this series.

On Sunday, Melancon retired leadoff man Adam Lind on a grounder wide of first. Khris Davis singled, but Melancon induced Gerardo Parra to bounce into a double play, ending the game, but prolonging Pittsburgh pitchers' precision.

Among them, Gerrit Cole, Jared Hughes, Tony Watson and Melancon faced the minimum 22 batters over the final 7 1/3 innings.

Manager Clint Hurdle making the textbook move for Melancon in the ninth carried a dramatic subplot. Hughes and Watson had worked their perfect innings, and had fanned half the men they faced. Still, they made way for Melancon, who has retired the side in order only once amid scrutiny of his fastball readings.

On Sunday morning, there had been more documentation of a speed drop: "Inside Edge" reported a decrease in Melancon's average velocity from 92 mph in 2014 to 88.8 mph this season.

"I don't really pay a whole lot of attention to velocity," said Melancon, never a fireballing closer, but one who lives by pinpointing his cutter and making batters beat it into the ground. "It's more about location and results. Velocity isn't something I'm worried about. It's early in the season. Generally, in the past my speed has been slower early -- then it climbs throughout the year."

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. Follow him on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.