Schugel quietly proving value in bullpen

Schugel quietly proving value in bullpen

PITTSBURGH -- Quietly, the Bucs may have found another answer for their 2018 bullpen in A.J. Schugel. The 28-year-old right-hander may fit as a jam-defusing fireman and bridge from the starting pitcher to the late-inning relievers, a role he's filled in the second half of the season.

"That's proven to be one of his strengths," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He has been the first and foremost guy we've gone to and gotten up when we've had a lead to be the guy who can come in and face right-handed and left-handed hitters. … He's learned how to pitch. He stays within his skillset."

The Pirates called on Schugel in Monday night's 3-0 loss to the Brewers after Jameson Taillon put runners on first and third with nobody out in the sixth inning. Schugel escaped unscathed after a weak grounder that cut down the lead runner, a strikeout and a flyout, on eight pitches.

"It was extra nice that Schugel was able to strand those guys," Taillon said. "I expect him to, because I know how good of a pitcher he is."

Schugel pitched well out of the Pirates' bullpen last year but ended the season injured. He wasn't quite ready for the big leagues on Opening Day, Hurdle said, and he recorded a 4.17 ERA in 26 appearances for Triple-A Indianapolis as he rounded into form. Called up on July 7, Schugel has put together a 1.74 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP in 31 innings over 29 appearances.

"Now you're seeing the results of a lot of hard work," Hurdle said. "He's pitched very efficiently since he's been up here."

Osuna set for winter ball

Nearing the end of his first season in the Majors, Jose Osuna isn't quite done playing. Osuna expects to play winter ball in his native Venezuela, and to spend most of his time there at a new position, third base.

Osuna is working at third during pregame drills, but he's never played there in a professional game. If he takes to the hot corner, it would provide him with another avenue to playing time and give the Pirates another depth option at third base.

"I have to keep my body ready to play in the winter," Osuna said. "I want to play there at third, most of the time, four or five games a week. That's going to help me next year."

Called up on April 18, Osuna spent most of the season as a pinch-hitter, occasionally starting in right field or at first base. He entered Tuesday slashing .239/.277/.440 with seven homers in 220 plate appearances.

"I learned a new role, coming off the bench. I think that's helped me for the future to be a better player," Osuna said. "Not playing every day, I know I have to make an adjustment when that doesn't happen. Learned a couple things from the guys who have more experience."

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