Schugel's first career save comes in backyard

Denver-area native closes out Bucs' win over Rockies at Coors

Schugel's first career save comes in backyard

DENVER -- Pirates rookie reliever A.J. Schugel came about as close as a kid can get to having a big league ballpark for a backyard. The only way he could have been more at home at Coors Field in Monday night's 6-1 win against the Rockies would be if he'd been born on third base.

With at least 25 friends and family in the stands, Schugel pitched 2 1/3 scoreless innings of two-hit ball and recorded his first big league save in the park where he grew up.

Among his family members was Schugel's dad, longtime scout Jeff Schugel. Jeff's connections enabled A.J. to spend much of his youth learning the game at the highest level, working out beside the likes of former Rockies stars Larry Walker, Todd Helton, Vinny Castilla, Matt Holliday and Troy Tulowitzki.

"I was always running around here, shagging and watching BP and everything growing up," Schugel said after his first Coors Field appearance. "It was a weird feeling jogging in, but at the same time, it was really cool coming out of the dugout now and being able to play."

His ability to play has earned him a spot as the lone rookie on manager Clint Hurdle's roster. He's pitched in six games spanning 10 innings and has allowed six runs -- five coming in one-third of an inning Saturday night against the D-backs in Arizona.

Schugel's Pirates debut

"He's got a changeup for right- and left-handers, he can pitch down, he can spin the ball, he can elevate," Hurdle said, listing off the notable qualities in Schugel's right arm. "He got in a bad situation the other night in Arizona, but it doesn't mean you don't pitch him again. He hung one changeup."

Schugel entered Monday's game with two outs in the seventh and the Pirates up by four. There were two men on and cleanup hitter Nolan Arenado at bat.

"Obviously, I wanted to get out of the inning," Schugel said of his approach to Arenado. "We kept to the game plan. I was going to be aggressive against him. I had him 2-2 and pulled a changeup. I went right back to it, 3-2. I threw a good one and got a popup. I guess 'aggressive' is one word."

Schugel's ability to spare the rest of the bullpen was the perfect antidote to a 13-inning game the night before that saw the Bucs use six relievers before leaving Arizona with a 12-10 victory.

"He threw 35 pitches [Monday], 26 pitches [Saturday]," Hurdle said. "That's a grown man's load and three days to carry it and still be effective. We're proud of him."

When the top of the order came up in the ninth and Schugel yielded a one-out single to Gerardo Parra and fell behind pinch-hitter Brandon Barnes, catcher Francisco Cervelli came out to the mound.

"I went 2-0 to Barnes in the ninth," Schugel said. "Cervi said, 'You want them to take you out? ' And I said, 'No.' And he said, 'All right, let's go.' I struck him out then."

After a groundout by Carlos Gonzalez, the game was in the books and the ball from Schugel's first save was headed home with his father to Highlands Ranch, Colo., about 12 miles south of Denver.

"I'm just really happy for him," Hurdle said. "I've known him since he was 10 or 12, running around the clubhouse. It's a really cool night to watch a kid go out there and pitch, kind of like playing wiffle ball in the backyard. It was fun. I'm sure the family was really excited."

Owen Perkins is a contributor to MLB.com based in Denver. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.