Caminero strengthens Bucs' faith in middle relief

Finding early-season form, right-hander strikes out career-high six over 2 1/3 scoreless innings

Caminero strengthens Bucs' faith in middle relief

PITTSBURGH -- On one of the Pirates' dullest nights of the season, one of their key stretch players came up very sharp. Arquimedes Caminero's dominant turn brightened the 5-0 loss to the Cubs at PNC Park, and helped quell concerns about the Bucs' middle relief.

As a reflection of the qualms about that area, the Pirates acquired a pair of relief arms (Joe Blanton and Joakim Soria) at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. But getting the early-season Caminero back would do even more good.

And that is what manager Clint Hurdle saw Tuesday night, as Caminero worked 2 1/3 shutout innings and got all but one of his outs on strikeouts. The six whiffs were a career high, doubling the long reliever's prior max.

"It was another good sign of him heading back in the right direction," Hurdle said of Caminero, who was lights-out over his first dozen appearances (13 strikeouts and .179 opponents average).

Then the lights dimmed, and by mid-June Caminero was in the dark. At the end of a 14-outing stretch during which he allowed 22 hits and 12 runs in 13 innings, pitching coach Ray Searage undertook the task of fixing his delivery.

"It was a single thing, really," Caminero said. "They wanted me to try to go back to simplifying things, go back to throwing like I was.

"I didn't have to try to be better than I was because," added Caminero, here calling on irrefutable logic, "they wouldn't have brought me here if they didn't like my stuff."

Who doesn't like 100-mph fastballs and 92-mph sliders? Caminero had to adjust his arm angle, releasing the ball on a more acute downward plane and, once he got that, the results returned.

In his last four appearances, he has thrown 4 2/3 shutout innings, allowing three hits and only one walk, with seven punchouts.

"He's throwing strikes, working the ball to both sides of the plate," Hurdle said. "He's spinning the ball extremely well. He used the breaking ball for strikes, and for chase. And he gave us some serious length."

Touching all the bases

First: The Pirates and Cubs are meeting with both teams at least 10 games above .500 for the first time since Aug. 18, 1977. For some perspective, on that day Kent Tekulve picked up career save No. 20.

Second: The Bucs' record against National League Central teams stands at 19-27, making them only one of 10 teams currently in a playoff position with a losing record within their division.

Third: J.A. Happ was the eighth different starting pitcher used by the Pirates his season, one of the fewest by any MLB team.

Happ strikes out Fowler

Home: Assists by Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte gave Pirates outfielders 23 for the season, second in the NL to Los Angeles' outfield.

Marte gets the force

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.