Hurdle calls on effective Hughes, Watson often

'The more, the merrier' for Hughes, who pitches clean inning vs. Phils

Hurdle calls on effective Hughes, Watson often

PHILADELPHIA -- Fully aware of the dangers of too much of a good thing, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle hopes his liberal use of relievers Jared Hughes and Tony Watson doesn't turn into a bad thing.

Each had appeared in 18 of the Bucs' first 31 games before Monday -- when Hughes made it 19 out of 32 with a clean eighth inning that set up Mark Melancon to save the 4-3 victory over the Phillies.

"The more, the merrier," Hughes said with a wide grin. "The most important thing is sticking to a routine, staying in good shape. And I feel good."

"That's high. It would be called red-lining if they were sports cars," Hurdle had said of the two setup men's appearances prior to game. He reiterated afterward, "We do have to find some rest for them."

Watson already has a track record as a reliable workhorse. He made 213 appearances from 2012-14, with increasing efficiency. Hughes can be a little more high-risk: At the end of a superb 2012 rookie season, he posted a 4.88 ERA for the final 23 of his 66 appearances -- and fought shoulder fatigue most of the next season.

Watson escapes jam

However, Hughes cautioned against using his appearances as the sole indicator of his workload.

"A lot of times, it's to face only a couple of batters. And I get low pitch counts," the sinkerballer said, "because I force early contact."

The "problem" is both setup relievers have been very effective, making it tough on Hurdle to resist the temptation of waving for them if the Bucs are slightly ahead or tied heading into the seventh inning. They have led or been even in 23 of the first 32 games.

"We'll try some different things, find some guys we can give the ball to," said Hurdle, hoping to gain confidence in giving middle men like lefty Antonio Bastardo and Arky Caminero higher leverage assignments. "Part of it also is the offense showing up better to create some separation."

That means bigger leads coming out of the sixth inning to give Hurdle some leeway in finding an alternate end-game.

Touching all the bases

• First: Bastardo won't be able to help out for a few days; the former Phillies reliever is missing the beginning of the series on paternity leave for he birth of his and his wife, Maribel's, first child, a son. Bobby LaFromboise was called up from Triple-A Indianapolis to fill in.

• Second: John Holdzkom has been shut down with the Indians due to shoulder fatigue, Hurdle reports.

• Third: The Bucs are playing their first of nine four-game series, a team specialty. They went 6-3-1 in them last season, dropping only one of the last eight.

• Home: Righty Charlie Morton was in Altoona on Monday night for a bullpen session in advance of his next scheduled rehab start, on Thursday with Indianapolis.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer and on his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.