Reliever Jared Hughes carried a 5.79 ERA into a game Wednesday vs. Philadelphia.
By Bill Brink Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
PHILADELPHIA -- Starting a pitch over the plate requires trust. It requires conviction. And when that pitch is the best one in the arsenal, the pitcher needs a decent amount of both.
The team has had conversations with reliever Jared Hughes about regaining that trust and conviction in his two-seam fastball, manager Clint Hurdle said Wednesday, after a rough four-game stretch.
"We have had some conversations about what the challenges have been, why they've been and what we need to do," Hurdle said.
Hughes allowed a run in three of his past four outings before Wednesday and was the loser in two of them. He allowed four runs in 32/3 innings in that span.
"One thing we have visited with him is, he is a sinkerball pitcher," Hurdle said. "He needs to reaffirm the conviction of sinking that ball and repeating his delivery. He's thrown some very good sinkers in some sequences, and then he's thrown some balls that you have seen stayed up over the plate."
To strengthen the conviction in the pitch, Hughes said, he needs to start it down the middle. He must trust that the two-seamer's natural sinking action will carry it out of the batter's sweet spot and induce weak contact.
"Conviction with the sinker is believing that, you throw it for a strike, and the guy's going to make a weak out," Hughes said. "You try to be too perfect with that pitch, and, all of a sudden, you fall behind in the count."
Sandwiched between the two losses was a good appearance in which he faced one batter, striking out the Atlanta Braves' Chris Johnson with a runner in scoring position Sunday to end the seventh.
Hughes can practice physically throwing his sinker for a strike. The flip side is all faith.
"The mental side of it is just going out there and attacking and believing in the pitch," he said.
Francisco Liriano has at least three more scheduled rehabilitation starts, Hurdle said, lining up for him to join the Pirates in mid-May if all goes well.
Liriano will start today for Class AAA Indianapolis and throw five innings or 80 pitches. He will increase his workload Tuesday to six innings or 90 pitches and could reach 100 May 5. That schedule suggests the Pirates could add him to the rotation as early as May 10.
Charlie Morton received good reviews on his rehabilitation start Tuesday night from Class AA Altoona pitching coach Stan Kyles and special assistant to the general manager Jim Benedict. Benedict has worked with Morton throughout his rehabilitation. Morton threw 69 pitches over four scoreless innings for Altoona and allowed one hit.
"The fastball played well," Hurdle said. "There was really good late life to the sinker. He mixed in some curveballs, he threw some changeups, he threw some cutters.
"Jim and Stan both were very optimistic with the step he was able to take [Tuesday] night."
Time to change some minds
For the Pirates to stop taking fastballs for called strike three with runners in scoring position, Hurdle said, they need to revert to their original two-strike approach. Hurdle has identified the issue as a concern and said opposing teams will exploit it.
"That's what other people are picking up," Hurdle said.
"That might not be your mindset going out there, but now it's the perception for the league."