LeBlanc's effective long relief spells bullpen

LeBlanc's effective long relief spells bullpen

PITTSBURGH -- At some point, Wade LeBlanc turned to the other six men in the Pirates' bullpen and set a goal. "I want to get through this season with seven relievers," LeBlanc told them. "Whatever I can do to help make that happen, I'm game."

LeBlanc was joking, to a certain extent. No team can ever hope to make it through the season without an injury or a transaction in the bullpen. But the veteran left-hander put his words into action Monday night, saving the bullpen with a 5 1/3-inning performance in the Pirates' 7-1 loss to the Reds.

After warming up in the first inning, LeBlanc was called into action when Tyler Glasnow's ugly season debut ended in the second. LeBlanc promptly retired 16 of the 18 batters he faced, allowing one hit without a walk or a strikeout. Eugenio Suarez homered to begin the fifth inning, then LeBlanc sat down the next nine hitters he faced.

It took him only 64 pitches -- the same number Glasnow threw in 1 2/3 innings -- to bridge the second to the eighth innings. The 32-year-old lefty had not pitched that many innings since going 5 1/3 on Aug. 19, when he was starting for the Mariners. It was the second-longest relief outing of his career, behind the 6 1/3 innings he threw for the Angels on May 30, 2014.

"You can't really conserve anything, especially when you're trying to get big league hitters out with the stuff I have," LeBlanc said. "You kind of have to give them everything every pitch. … You can't afford to set guys up, even if you're going to face them two or three times, because the reason you're out there is they need innings."

LeBlanc joked in Spring Training that he's gotten used to pitching with "below-average stuff," but he threw strikes and changed speeds well enough Monday to keep the Reds off-balance.

"Gave us a real nice shot in the arm big time last night," manager Clint Hurdle said. "You keep the roster intact. Last night could have gotten disconnected a couple of different ways, and we could be looking at different personnel in the clubhouse today."

In other words, calling upon Trevor Williams for an inning or two likely would have led to a series of roster moves Monday to preserve the Pirates' pitching depth. There was no sense in calling upon closer Tony Watson or setup man Daniel Hudson with such a significant deficit, and relievers Felipe Rivero and Juan Nicasio were unavailable. Antonio Bastardo worked the final two innings.

So when LeBlanc walked into the Pirates' clubhouse Tuesday, he saw the same six relievers that began the season in Pittsburgh's bullpen.

"This is the job that I've embraced. If I want to stay in the big leagues with the Pirates, this is what I'm going to have to do," LeBlanc said. "I'm going to be ready mentally to throw six innings every game if I have to."

One scenario LeBlanc probably wasn't prepared for was batting twice with the bases loaded. He struck out swinging in both at-bats.

"I'm still out there to get as many outs, and save as many bullets for other guys as I can. If you get a hit, it's a bonus," LeBlanc said. "Tried to be competitive. I wasn't, but I tried."

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.