Vogelsong keeps focus for strong spot start

Having accepted bullpen role after winding road back to Pittsburgh, righty steps up when needed

Vogelsong keeps focus for strong spot start

PITTSBURGH -- Over the weekend, Ryan Vogelsong was still trying to get used to being a reliever. On Tuesday, he found out he might need to be a starter again.

Assuming Francisco Liriano's spot in the rotation, Vogelsong gave the Pirates everything they could have hoped for in a spot start Wednesday night at PNC Park. The veteran held the Tigers to one run and struck out five over five efficient innings, but his effort went to waste in a 7-3 loss.

"It was very craftsman-like," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Really good performance."

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Vogelsong entered the spring with a rotation spot essentially locked up. Juan Nicasio's emergence, however, bumped Vogelsong to the bullpen, where he ended the first part of his Pittsburgh career a decade ago. So Vogelsong tried to wrap his mind around his new role, getting used to pitching on little to no advanced notice.

Before Tuesday's game in Detroit, Vogelsong learned he might need to start Wednesday night. Liriano, scheduled to start against the Tigers, had a sore right hamstring. But Vogelsong still prepared as if he might pitch Tuesday afternoon.

When he went uncalled, Vogelsong began to prepare for his first start in a Pirates uniform since Sept. 29, 2004. He's gone from the bullpen and the Minor Leagues to Japan and Venezuela and all the way to the World Series (Giants, '12 and '14) since then.

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"The thoughts went through my mind during the day, yeah," Vogelsong said. "But once I got here, it was kind of business as usual. Get ready for the start, do my studying, get ready, go out there, warm up good and try to take it into the game. I was able to do it."

Sure enough, Vogelsong retired the Tigers' first seven hitters in order and faced the minimum through three innings.

"Everything was really there," Vogelsong said. "I didn't have to think too much, which helped."

He gave up a home run to Ian Kinsler and a few more hard-hit balls in the fourth inning, but he bounced back with a perfect fifth inning. Vogelsong said he felt strong after throwing only 66 pitches.

But considering the time since Vogelsong's last start and seeing the Tigers' lineup about to turn over a third time, Hurdle went to his bullpen and sent out reliever Arquimedes Caminero in the sixth. Caminero recorded two quick outs, put three straight runners on base and served up a go-ahead grand slam to Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

"That was not what we were set up to do," Hurdle said. "When you're the manager and you make those moves, you take the responsibility of a bad ending."

Now, with a solid start under his belt, Vogelsong will get used to being a reliever. Unless they need him to be a starter again.

"It'll be back to business as usual here, go back the other way and get ready to do it out of the bullpen again," Vogelsong said. "We'll just keep grinding."

Adam Berry is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @adamdberry. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.