Melancon comes through for third straight game

Melancon comes through for third straight game

PHOENIX -- Mark Melancon did not figure to be the man coming out of the bullpen if the Pirates needed a game to be saved Saturday night.

The closer who has pitched under a microscope had done his job well the previous two games, picking up saves on Thursday and Friday, with perfect ninth innings against the Cubs and the Diamondbacks.

Manager Clint Hurdle prefers to not use any reliever three days in a row. But a light, eight-pitch turn on Friday left Melancon with plenty still in the tank, so he again asked for the ball Saturday night, and added more laurels to the two perfect outings that should have quelled the panic over his diminished velocity. Melancon picked up his fifth save of the season by nailing down the 2-1 win over the D-backs.

In those appearances, Melancon was throwing the same 88-89 mph cutter that had people in a funk after the Cubs had jumped him for three runs and a 9-8 comeback win on Tuesday.

"And you saw Major League batters mis-hit three balls [Friday]. It all comes back to command and execution," Hurdle reminded.

The Buccos skipper did raise the possibility Melancon's participation in Major League Baseball's postseason goodwill tour to Japan still has him out of sync.

Melancon made only a limited appearance in that exhibition series but "did have a completely different offseason than he's had before, so it's something you have to look at," Hurdle said.

"How and where that plays?" Hurdle said. "I believe it does play. But to what extent?"

Last summer, Hurdle made a rather quick move away from Jason Grilli and to Melancon as his closer. This time, Hurdle's support of Melancon never wavered, for three reasons: Belief the 30-year-old right-hander's velocity will pick back up, confidence that he could remain effective even if it does not, and because he owes it to him.

"I do believe every player has a checking account," Hurdle said. "They invest, put things in with what they do, they draw interest, and there comes a time when you take money out.

"I try to put myself in their position: What opportunities would I hope to get based on what I've done for the club? You gotta give those men some rope."

Melancon's dip in velocity is evident. What he and his manager refute is that it is consequential. While Melancon relies more on placing pitches, Hurdle cites 303-save closer Doug Jones as proof it is possible to mesmerize big league hitters even with an 81-mph fastball.

"Now you see a guy go out there with maybe his sword not as sharp," Hurdle said of Melancon. "But he's still got a sword and will still cut you."

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.