Hurdle encouraged by Hughes' recent outings

Manager has called on right-hander to escape two jams this week

Hurdle encouraged by Hughes' recent outings

PITTSBURGH -- After back-to-back solid outings, reliever Jared Hughes looks like his old self again.

In the Pirates' 5-4 victory vs. the D-backs on Wednesday, Hughes was called to the mound in the seventh inning with one out and a runner on second. He promptly induced groundouts from Phil Gosselin and Nick Ahmed to end the threat.

That's a big turnaround from his performance on Monday, when Hughes got one out then gave up two singles in the ninth inning of the Pirates' 6-3 win vs. the Rockies. Closer Mark Melancon was called in to get the save.

Hughes, who looks for ground-ball outs, has struggled to produce them this season. His ground ball to fly ball ratio is 1.07, meaning he's allowing nearly the same amount of fly balls to ground balls this year. In 2015, that ratio was 3.43, and in 2014 it was 3.81.

Bullpen coach Euclides Rojas and pitching coach Ray Searage have helped Hughes return to form. The trio watch video together and work through what Hughes can do to improve.

"Making adjustments every day with Eucy Rojas, Ray Searage," Hughes said. "Getting back on top of the ball, really working at it to get more consistent. When the ball's in the air, that's not who I am as a pitcher. I'm trying to get on top, get the ball on the ground."

Hughes works out of trouble

In the Pirates' first game of the series vs. the D-backs on Tuesday, Francisco Liriano gave up a run in the sixth inning and Hughes relieved him with the bases loaded. Brandon Drury grounded out to shortstop Jordy Mercer and the inning was retired.

The turnaround in the last two games has been noted by Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.

"The last three hitters he's faced, he's sunk the ball well, he's got three big ground-ball outs -- bases loaded the other night, then a guy on second," Hurdle said. "It's going to help his confidence. No matter who you are, when you go back to getting things done the way you've gotten it done, the success you've had in the past, those are always good building blocks."

Hughes strained his lat muscle in Spring Training and spent a month and a half recovering from the injury. He's only appeared in 13 games so far, and Hurdle said it may simply take a little time for Hughes to rebound from the injury.

"We hadn't seen what we were able to see for the most part of last season, whether it was an injury," Hurdle said. "Sometimes this relief thing is hard to figure out. More often than not they have good year, bad year. Our guys have had a lot of good years and a lot of good sequences. It might have just been a little bit of a down time."

Sarah K. Spencer is a reporter for based in Pittsburgh. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.