Top Prospects: Victor Black, RHP, Pirates

WASHINGTON -- The Bucs' bullpen has been a major component of the team's contention in the National League Central. Pittsburgh relievers have 21 wins, 36 saves, a collective ERA of 2.76 -- all among the best in Major League Baseball.

What the Pirates did not have until Vic Black checked in on Tuesday was a "born" reliever.

One of the more impressive aspects of the bullpen assembled by GM Neal Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle and staff is its composition of guys drafted and developed as starting pitchers.

Including Jeanmar Gomez, the occasional spot-starter and current long man in the bullpen, the five incumbent relievers setting up new closer Mark Melancon started 501 of their combined 666 Minor League appearances before being transitioned by the Bucs.

The breakdown:

• Gomez (144 starts of 146 Minor League games)
• Bryan Morris (79 of 162)
• Tony Watson (56 of 106)
• Justin Wilson (98 of 112)
• Vin Mazzaro (124 of 144)

Conversely, Black is a natural reliever who has worked to perfect that role since being the Pirates' pick in the supplemental round of the 2009 First-Year Player Draft, the overall No. 49 selection that year.

Black pulled into Nationals Park on Tuesday during batting practice and spent his first big league night in, well, the bullpen.

"As I have been all year [at Triple-A Indianapolis], I was ready to pitch, and I'll be ready again tonight," Black said before Wednesday's game.

Hurdle wants to get Black's big league feet wet quickly -- but also will look for a low-stress situation for his debut, meaning a game with a differential of at least five runs one way or the other.

First number, last word

10: Games this season in which Pirates pitching has allowed no more than three hits. The total is tied with Tampa Bay's for most in the Majors this season -- and is a modern (post-1916) franchise record through 98 games of a season.

"It's easy to learn when you see the damage right in front of you." -- Gerrit Cole, agreeing with the notion that young pitchers learn more from bad outings than from good ones

Worth noting

• Through 98 games, Pirates starting pitchers had held opponents to a batting average of .233. The lowest mark on record for the club is .238, by the 1965 rotation headlined by Bob Veale (.225).

• Gerrit Cole pitched two-hit ball for seven innings in Tuesday's 5-1 win, while also getting two hits himself. The last Pittsburgh rookie starter to do that was Hank Gornicki, who went 2-for-3 at the plate while pitching a two-hit shutout against the Boston Braves on Aug. 27, 1942.

• Russell Martin took the Major League lead in throwing out runners when he made Bryce Harper his 20th victim in Tuesday night's first inning.

• Wandy Rodriguez (strained left forearm) rejoined the club and played some catch before the team's regular pregame workout.

• With their still-stalling attack, the Bucs may occasionally waste some solid pitching -- but they rarely waste any offense. They have won 17 consecutive games when scoring at least five runs, and are overall 38-3 with that output. The Cardinals have lost four games when scoring five-plus runs, and the Reds have lost six.