Bucs could turn to Nicasio in setup role

Bucs could turn to Nicasio in setup role

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- In February, Juan Nicasio reported to Spring Training with no set role. He opened the season in the rotation before ultimately sticking in the bullpen.

The Bucs already know where Nicasio will work next season -- out of the bullpen -- but it's less clear when he'll pitch. Nicasio's role is up in the air, dependent on whether Pittsburgh adds a more traditional setup man to replace free-agent right-hander Neftali Feliz.

If the Pirates don't add a late-inning arm between setup man Felipe Rivero and closer Tony Watson, Nicasio could fill that role. If they sign or trade for another setup reliever, then Nicasio figures to remain more of a swingman, pitching in high-leverage situations or picking up multiple innings after short starts.

Hot Stove Tracker

"We do feel comfortable with Nicasio going in either one of those roles," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said.

Nicasio, 30, struggled as a starter but thrived in the bullpen, recording a 2.96 ERA with 73 strikeouts in 54 2/3 innings over 39 appearances after June 26.

The Pirates reached out to Feliz's camp about an extension during the season but weren't able to reach an agreement. Feliz is now an intriguing free agent, only 28 years old and coming off a bounce-back season in which he posted a 3.52 ERA with 61 strikeouts in 53 2/3 innings.

Who's on first?
On the last day of the season, first baseman John Jaso said he planned to work this offseason at third base and in the outfield. Rookie Josh Bell, an outfielder-turned-first baseman, said he intended on working equally at first and in the outfield before next season.

Huntington clarified those plans on Tuesday, saying the Bucs will focus on first base with Bell.

"We visited a few times this offseason and had some good sessions with him," Huntington said.

Bell's grab gets Watson's save

With Bell at first, the Pirates want Jaso to be a left-handed bat off the bench capable of playing first base or right field -- in some ways, picking up the responsibilities of departed free agents Sean Rodriguez (backup first baseman) and Matt Joyce (left-handed pinch-hitter/right fielder).

Jaso also volunteered to work at third base, and Huntington said the Pirates didn't want to discourage him from doing so.

Jaso hustles for the out

Around the horn
• Brad Fischer, removed from the Major League coaching staff earlier this offseason, has accepted a job as the Pirates' field coordinator.

• The Pirates still plan to have a representative from the analytics department in their clubhouse. Mike Fitzgerald, who previously held that role, recently accepted a position leading the D-backs' analytics department.

"We have a couple of internal candidates that we brought in in different roles, with different thoughts. Fitz is a different personality. He's a special guy," Huntington said. "His intellectual capacity is incredible. Didn't get a lot of publicity externally, but he's a special guy. … It's a challenging role we feel comfortable that we'll be able to fill. I don't know that we'll be able to replace [Fitzgerald]."

• Catcher Chris Stewart is expected to be healthy and ready for the start of Spring Training after undergoing knee surgery in September, Huntington said.

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.