Pirates' bullpen feeding off group's success

Pirates' bullpen feeding off group's success

DETROIT -- Pirates right-hander A.J. Schugel likes hearing the phone ring.

When he's sitting in the bullpen, stretching, watching the game or simply relaxing with a blank mind, Schugel enjoys the adrenaline rush that comes with the quick transition from phone call, to warm up, to game action.

In his third Major League season and second with the Pirates, Schugel is part of a bullpen that has been key to the club's recent run of success. In the past 30 days entering Wednesday's matchup against the Tigers, the Bucs featured six relievers with an ERA under 3.50. Pittsburgh also had the seventh-best bullpen ERA in the Majors at 3.72.

The Pirates entered Wednesday just 3 1/2 games behind the National League Central-leading Cubs, having won five of their previous six games. If the division is within reach down the stretch, a reliable group of relievers would serve as a big plus.

"I think it's kind of a snowball effect," Schugel said. "Everyone kinda feeds off each other and it's the same with the team. It's all about trying to get hot at the right time. The race right now is so tight, anything could happen."

Though the Pirates traded left-hander Tony Watson to the Dodgers at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, the Bucs acquired a pair of veteran right-handers shortly thereafter in Joaquin Benoit (from the Phillies) and George Kontos (off waivers from the Giants).

Kontos fans Machado

Kontos, in particular, has had an immediate impact. The 32-year-old, who won a World Series title in 2012 with the Giants, tossed perfect eighth innings in back-to-back days after joining the Pirates on Monday.

"Those first two [outings], it was impressive," Schugel said of Kontos. "He's got some years and knows what he's doing. It's nice to see him and watch him and try to emulate what he's able to do."

Worth noting
• Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said he plans to take advantage of the opportunity to use a designated hitter, with a handful of players expected to get off their feet for a day.

Josh Bell served as the DH on Wednesday to allow John Jaso to receive a full game's worth of at-bats. Hurdle surmised that Gregory Polanco and Andrew McCutchen could both serve as the DH in Toronto on the turf field, along with David Freese.

• With the Players Weekend jersey nicknames announced on Wednesday, Hurdle was complimentary of Commissioner Rob Manfred for the innovative idea to expand creativity and interest in the game. When asked about his nickname, however, Hurdle stayed tight-lipped.

"I actually got called out by a couple people in the organization, not believing that I didn't have a nickname," he said. "So I shared the nickname and they go, 'Oh, we could never put that on a jersey.' And I go, 'Exactly! Thank you! That's all I got.' So no, I guess I'm gonna work with 'Clint,' if that's how it works."

Pitcher Trevor Williams wanted to put "Vedder" on the back of his Players Weekend jersey for Eddie Vedder, the Pearl Jam lead vocalist and Cubs fan. Williams said he wasn't allowed to do that, so he settled for "E.V." instead.

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