Bucs may boost middle relief via trade

Reliable Watson endures rare hiccup in win over Twins

Bucs may boost middle relief via trade

MINNEAPOLIS - The starters' picture is solid. Not only do the Pirates' starting pitchers rate high with their 42 wins and 3.26 ERA, but there are ample next-man-up candidates on the Triple-A level. The bullpen's end is even stouter. When Tony Watson and Mark Melancon have worked back-to-back to close it out, the Bucs are 23-3.

Although, admittedly, the latest entry in that log Tuesday night was somewhat bizarre, as Watson reeled through arguably the worst outing of his career to bring the Twins back into a game the Bucs would eventually bag, 8-7.

"He'll wash it off and get ready to go the next time," manager Clint Hurdle said of Watson, whose biggest mistake in allowing four runs in a third of an inning may have been throwing nothing but strikes.

So the more genuine emerging problem for the Bucs concerns the middle innings, and that is where GM Neal Huntington is focused in the hours leading to Friday's 4 p.m. ET non-waiver Trade Deadline.

With the exception of Jared Hughes, a "situational" reliever who can appear anywhere from the fifth to eighth inning, the setup relief crew has shown leaks.

In July, Deolis Guerra and Arquimedes Caminero have each pitched 9 1/3 innings and combined to allow 26 hits -- including three homers each -- and 14 runs for a composite ERA of 6.75. The third component, displaced starter Vance Worley, has pulled some impressive long shifts but isn't cut out for relief work. Testifying to that is that three times he has entered games and surrendered home runs to the first batter he faced.

Middle relief is considered the game's most expendable, most plentiful commodity, so it follows that it is always a buyer's market. That also means multiple choices, and Huntington is out to make the right one.

Guerra's and Caminero's upsides are high -- and their stuff is impressive -- so minor changes in approach and delivery could again make them as effective as during their first times around the league. The Bucs don't want for their playoff fates to rest on their quick fixes, however.

Touching all the bases

• First: Radhames Liz, who has put up a 1.17 ERA in nine games, including six starts, since accepting an assignment to Triple-A Indianapolis, now is called by Hurdle "one of the guys right in the mix for starting depth."

• Second: Outfielder Gorkys Hernandez (left shoulder) will have his status re-evaluated after a couple of more rehab games in Indianapolis.

• Third: The comeback trail of righty Rob Scahill (forearm tightness) has been precisely laid out. He wil throw a couple of sides at Pirate City, do a simulated game Aug. 3, then make an appearance for High Class A Bradenton on Aug. 6, when his targets will be two innings and 35 pitches.

• Home: Target Field is one of 12 ballparks in which Sean Rodriguez has had 50-plus career at-bats, and his .370 average in the Twins' home is by far his best among those.

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.