Santana, Neverauskas auditioning for 2018

Santana, Neverauskas auditioning for 2018

PITTSBURGH -- Friday night provided a potential preview of the Pirates' 2018 bullpen. Between Ivan Nova's five innings and Felipe Rivero's blown save in the ninth, the Bucs sent out rookies Edgar Santana and Dovydas Neverauskas, followed by veteran George Kontos.

Each right-hander worked a scoreless frame, gaining experience in the roles they may play next year. Kontos, Neverauskas and Santana should be a part of next season's relief corps alongside Daniel Hudson, A.J. Schugel and the closer, Rivero.

"They show you the skill sets that you like," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "They've got the weapons. … You like their makeup. They're getting great experience pitching in those situations."

For Kontos, experience is not the issue. He spent 5 1/2 years pitching in a variety of roles for the Giants, recording a 3.05 ERA over 300 appearances in San Francisco. He could return next year in a high-leverage role, as evidenced by him pitching Friday's eighth inning with a one-run lead.

For Santana and Neverauskas, this is essentially a test drive. Neverauskas, 24, entered Saturday with a 2.82 ERA and a 1.16 WHIP in his first 20 Major League appearances. Santana, 25, owns a 4.20 ERA and a 1.73 WHIP with 18 strikeouts and 11 walks over 15 innings.

The Pirates view both as future late-inning relievers, with both the stuff and mentality to pitch with the game on the line.

"I like to pitch late in the game, when the game is tight," Santana said. "There's pressure, but they have the same pressure. I've been doing that for a long time, so that's what I like to do."

Santana's first career strikeout

Part of their development, Hurdle said, is learning that there are no "safety nets" in the Majors; they cannot get away with mistakes as often as they did in the Minor Leagues. Santana, for instance, has a high-octane fastball and a wicked slider, but the Pirates have stressed the importance of developing a changeup to keep hitters off-balance.

"My goal has always been to work on my changeup to have a third pitch, make the hitter think about something else," Santana said. "I've been working on that, especially in the bullpen and throwing program. It feels really good."

Organizational awards 

The Pirates' Minor League Player and Pitcher of the Year are spending September in the Majors. In a pregame ceremony on Saturday night, the Bucs presented their annual Minor League awards to outfielder Jordan Luplow and left-hander Steven Brault.

Luplow, 23, quickly climbed from Double-A Altoona to Pittsburgh this year by hitting .302/.381/.527 with 23 home runs and 56 RBIs in 117 games between Altoona and Triple-A Indianapolis.

"It's pretty cool. I just have to thank all my family, teammates and coaches that have helped me along the way," Luplow said. "I was just trying to make the 40-man roster at the end of the year before the Rule 5 [Draft]. Then this happened."

Had the Pirates dealt with another injury or two in their rotation, Brault likely would have spent too much time in Pittsburgh to qualify for the award he received. Brault dominated in Triple-A, earning International League Pitcher of the Year honors by going 10-5 with a 1.94 ERA.

"It's an honor. It's really cool to share this award with the guys I played with this year down in Triple-A. We had an awesome team, and I couldn't have done it without them," Brault said. "It was just a great place to play, great place to pitch, and I loved it."

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.