PITTSBURGH -- Erik Bedard has been a pitching contradiction in his first season with the Pirates. As he showed in his brilliant seven shutout innings of two-hit ball in Monday night's 4-0 win over the D-backs, he can be lights-out -- that was his fifth start of seven-plus innings while allowing two earned runs or fewer.
At other times his lights have been punched out. Bedard is tied for the Major League lead in losses, with 12, and five times has lasted fewer than five innings while giving up five or more runs.There may be a solution: Have him pitch on five days' rest, and to Rod Barajas. That has occurred seven times, and in those starts Bedard has an ERA of 3.31. And those were the conditions on Monday, when he tended arguably his best effort in years. No disrespect to Michael McKenry, one of the most impressively improved players in the Major Leagues. In fact, McKenry was behind the plate for one of three second-half starts made by Bedard on five days' rest -- and Bedard has an ERA of 0.87 in those three. But there is a certain synergy between the veteran Bedard and the veteran Barajas, and that was on obvious display against the D-backs. "I pay attention to the time between a sign going down and the pitch getting off," manager Clint Hurdle said, "and [on Monday] night the level of trust was unconditional. One time in the game, the sign-and-delivery was not done in two, three seconds -- out of the 80 pitches he threw. That's impressive."
Wilson may provide relief down the stretch
PITTSBURGH -- There was plenty of talk by manager Clint Hurdle about the pitching at Triple-A Indianapolis before Tuesday's game against Arizona, and much of it centered on left-hander Justin Wilson.Hurdle announced that the 24-year-old Wilson, who has made 23 starts this season, is moving to the bullpen, which makes it more likely that he'll be called up to aid the Pirates' relief corps as the season's second half continues. "As you look to get through August, if somebody goes down, you've got to have a Plan B, a Plan C," Hurdle said. "And then, obviously, when you open up the gates in September, when you can add to the 40-man [roster], you can add different looks and different options out of the bullpen to be as chaotic for the other team as you can be, and resourceful for yourself." In addition to Wilson, who has a 4.14 ERA to go along with his 121 strikeouts and 63 walks, Hurdle mentioned Chris Leroux, Jeff Locke, Rick VandenHurk and Doug Slaten as pitchers whose successes in Indianapolis have drawn the attention of the big league club. But Hurdle seemed particularly impressed by Wilson, whom he compared with former Pirates pitcher Brad Lincoln. Both saw increases in their velocity upon joining the bullpen. "You put them in that one-inning role, and they know they've only got to fire for one inning, and they just let it [go]," Hurdle said. "They're not holding anything back. They're not figuring to get through five [innings] or get 100 pitches under their belt." In regard to Wilson's velocity, Hurdle said, "It did spike toward the back end of the 90s." "Command is still his calling card," he added. "That had been the one challenge for Justin moving forward, whether it's been starting, whether it's been in the bullpen. He's the kind of kid that, if that part of his game can be put under control, [he] could be special."
Cruz makes first rehab appearance with Altoona
PITTSBURGH -- Reliever Juan Cruz made his first Minor League rehab appearance in Double-A Altoona on Monday night, starting for the Curve and giving up two runs in one-third of an inning.The righty began the game with a strikeout before allowing hits to the following four batters. In all, he threw 25 pitches, 17 of which were fastballs, the rest a mix of changeups and sliders. "Basically, we wanted Juan to get out and pound the fastball -- the velocity was 91 to 94 [mph] -- and repeat his delivery and maintain an arm slot, and that's what he did," manager Clint Hurdle said on Tuesday. Hurdle did not say when Cruz would make another appearance. That would likely come late Tuesday or Wednesday. Cruz, 33, was in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, and did some running before the game against Arizona. Cruz last pitched for the Pirates on July 17, in Colorado. He was placed on the 15-day disabled list with inflammation in his right shoulder on July 21, retroactive to July 18. He's appeared in 37 games this season, throwing 31 innings and posting a 2.61 ERA to go along with 32 strikeouts and 17 walks.
"Sometimes, when they start working slower with men on base, I have to tell our pitchers, 'The longer you take, they're not going to disappear. You've got to make pitches to get them out. They're not going to go away.'" -- manager Clint Hurdle
The Pirates took a record of 10-9 vs. the National League West into Tuesday night's game against the D-backs. The Bucs haven't finished with a winning record against teams in that division since 2004, when they went 16-4. Following this homestand, which has them facing only West teams (the Padres and Dodgers come to town following the D-backs), the Bucs will have three games against that division remaining (Aug. 20-22 in San Diego). Travis Snider, the only newcomer among the Bucs who had never been in PNC Park prior to Monday night, gave his first impressions: "Unbelievable backdrop. I could easily get used to playing here a long time."
Told that the place hadn't always been as electric as it is these days, he said, "Hopefully, we can keep it plugged in." Going into Tuesday night's game, Pirates starting pitchers ranked third in the league with a total of 46 victories. Over the entire 2011 season, the Bucs got 49 wins from their rotation.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. Mark Emery is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.