Rookie Hughes emerges as key Bucs reliever

Rookie Hughes emerges as key Bucs reliever

Rookie Hughes emerges as key Bucs reliever
MIAMI -- The Pirates' bullpen has been excellent so far this season, thanks to contributions from several different pitchers.

Closer Joel Hanrahan has collected seven saves, while setup men Jason Grilli and Juan Cruz have been solid. But rookie Jared Hughes has quietly been one of the best relievers in baseball.

Hughes leads all rookies with a 1.45 ERA, and has thrown seven consecutive scoreless innings heading into Tuesday's game against the Marlins. The right-hander believes pitching aggressively in the strike zone has helped him find success early this season.

"Keeping the ball down and attacking the zone," Hughes said. "If I can keep the ball down in the strike zone and make guys swing the bat, I'll be all right. I trust my fielders because we have some good ones. If I can do that, I'm going to have a lot of success."

Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage believes the 11 innings Hughes pitched in the big leagues last season have helped the 26-year-old enter the 2012 campaign well prepared to succeed in the Majors.

"The newness wore off last year," Searage said. "Now he has an idea of what to do. He had a solid spring and he's had a solid season so far. He brings something to the table that all these young kids have, and that's that he wants to compete. He just lays it out on the table, and whatever happens, happens. And he's got the mental makeup to bounce back from adversity the next day."

Like most Pirates relievers, Hughes has not had to deal with much adversity this season. The right-hander has allowed just three earned runs over 18 2/3 innings.

"Getting ahead in the count is always a key," Hughes said. "We're all super competitive guys down there [in the bullpen]. That really works for us. When we get in the game, we do whatever we can to put up a zero and get a hitter out."

While Hughes' season is off to a strong start, he says it could still be better.

"We could be undefeated or be in first place in our division," Hughes said. "I think what's really important to me is the success of the Pirates."