Watson at ease being Bucs' lone LHP in 'pen

Watson at ease being Bucs' lone LHP in 'pen

CHICAGO -- For most, pitching is a constant game of tweaks in order to find a groove. Pirates left-hander Tony Watson said he hasn't made a major mechanical change.

So how do you know when you're in that groove?

"When the ball's going to the spot you're trying to get it to and it's coming out free and easy," Watson said. "You don't feel as restricted, and your command's back. That's when you know you're in a good place mechanically."

Watson is in that place right now. After closely studying his delivery from last season and then making a minor adjustment in his release point, Watson has come back from a mediocre start to be his usual shutdown self. He has not allowed a run in seven of his past eight appearances, and he has allowed only two hits in his past six innings.

"Getting there," Watson said. "It's a constant battle. "But once you get out on the mound and the adrenaline is flowing and everything gets up to speed, it's all good."

Watson had a 4.22 ERA over his first 10 appearances this season and only 59 percent of his pitches were strikes. In the six appearances since, Watson has not allowed a run and is throwing 75 percent strikes.

His recent success is part of why the Pirates returned to the standard seven-man bullpen and eight-man bench Friday. The timing of a rainout and off-day made the move logical, but manager Clint Hurdle also mentioned the change as being a step of faith in his bullpen.

The Pirates optioned Kyle Lobstein to Triple-A on Friday, leaving Watson as the only left-hander in the Pirates' bullpen. Watson is primarily the club's eighth-inning option, and Hurdle and the Pirates are historically not fans of situational relievers.

That could mean more challenging situations for the Pirates' right-handed middle relievers, or possibly a slight change in Watson's workload.

"It's something that I've done before," Watson said. "In 2012, we rolled with just one lefty down there. It's something that I've had experience doing. Clint does a good job -- he doesn't like the left-on-left, the field-goal kicker [role]. So I'll go out there and trust in us to go through multiple hitters and innings. It's just something we all are confident doing. There's trust all around."

Cody Stavenhagen is a reporter for MLB.com based in Chicago. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.