Pirates send struggling Niese to bullpen

Pirates send struggling Niese to bullpen

WASHINGTON -- After a tough first half and a rocky few weeks leading up to the All-Star break, Pirates left-hander Jon Niese has been demoted to the bullpen.

Manager Clint Hurdle said Friday he wouldn't want to pigeonhole the lefty into any specific bullpen role, but would use him in a variety of situations.

"He could be a versatile option for us out there," Hurdle said. "We know he can pitch multiple innings, he's built up to a good place, there's length there. There's also some abilities where some left-handed hitters he's had success with over the years that he could be matched up with, left on left."

Niese ended the first half with a 5.13 ERA in 101 2/3 innings, due in part to his highest walk rate since 2010 and an abnormally high home run/fly ball ratio. The veteran left-hander has struggled particularly of late, with a 7.92 ERA (27 earned runs in 30 2/3 innings) over his past six starts.

Niese has some experience as a reliever, having made four appearances out of the bullpen for the Mets at the end of last season. He allowed only one earned run in 3 2/3 innings pitching in relief.

"I would rather start, obviously, that's where my heart's at, but as long as I'm toeing the rubber, I'm happy," Niese said.

Niese was the victim of his own poor performance and also a crowded Pirates pitching staff. Gerrit Cole is expected to return from the disabled list Saturday, and Pittsburgh also has Francisco Liriano, Chad Kuhl and Jeff Locke pegged for rotation spots. The Pirates won't need a consistent fifth starter for the next few weeks due to off-days, but when they do, they can turn to prospects Jameson Taillon and Tyler Glasnow.

Hurdle had to make a move, and Niese became the odd-man out.

"I knew something was going to happen," Niese said. "I was certainly hoping it wasn't going to be me to get bumped, but it is what it is. I understand that the results weren't there in the first half."

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