Pirates pitcher Joel Hanrahan had a 4-1 record last season.
By Tim Povtak Special to the Post-Gazette
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Right-hander Joel Hanrahan will start the season as the closer, landing the job over All-Star Evan Meek.
Hanrahan, 29, shared the role with Meek in the second half of last season, although neither was especially effective in the split-shift job they inherited after the Pirates traded Octavio Dotel at the deadline.
Manager Clint Hurdle announced his decision Wednesday after workouts, ending one of the few key position debates going into spring training. It didn't take very long -- three days into camp -- after considerable internal discussion this winter.
"A spring [training] competition didn't make sense to me," Hurdle said. "There wasn't a bad choice. We have guys who can hold the direction of a game. Once we get on top, we stay on top."
Meek, the Pirates only All-Star last season, will become the setup man for Hanrahan. The two will anchor a seven-man bullpen with many of the other jobs still unclear.
Hurdle said he made the decision based on Hanrahan's experience in the role. He had nine saves for Washington three seasons ago, getting two late in the season in a doubleheader at Colorado. He also had five saves in 2009 before he was traded to the Pirates at midseason.
Hanrahan went six of 10 in his save situations last season. Meek was outstanding in a setup role, going 4-3 with a 1.11 ERA in 40 games before the All-Star break. He tailed off late with six blown saves.
Both right-handers possess a 95 mph fastball and good sliders, relying heavily on their power pitches. Hanrahan ranked fourth among all relief pitchers with 100 strikeouts in 692/3 innings. He was the first Pirates reliever with 100 strikeouts since Don Robinson in 1984.
"Everybody wants to be the closer. All the guys in the bullpen would love to have that role," Hanrahan said. "The last three outs are the most important in a game. You take ownership of it."
Hanrahan had several strong stretches last season. He had nine consecutive scoreless appearances in May. He was scored upon just once in 15 games in another five-week stretch. He didn't surrender a run in his first eight games after the All-Star break.
"[Being the closer] is fun. Once you get those last three outs, we can go home, high-five everyone. The fans go crazy. It's fun for everyone," Hanrahan said. "Hopefully, we can get a lot of that this year."
Meek was understandably disappointed but also was relieved to get the issue settled. Hurdle also said his policy is that no relief pitcher will work more than three consecutive days, which could give Meek some ninth-inning opportunities.
It also will help considerably if the starters and middle relieves perform better this season, giving Hanrahan and Meek more save chances.
"In a perfect world, I'd love to do the [closer] job," Meek said. "But I know Joel will do a great job. We're going to have a strong back end of the bullpen. I know I'll be getting him the ball."
While Hanrahan and Meek will know their roles, the rest of the bullpen remains somewhat uncertain.
Joe Beimel, Chris Resop and Jose Veras likely will earn one of the four remaining spots. Daniel McCutchen and Jeff Karstens, and possibly Scott Olsen, also could be part of it.
"It would have been nice to know earlier [who the closer was] before spring training," Meek said. "But you can't let it throw you off track. It's over and done with now. Either way, you still have to get outs."
• Catcher Chris Snyder turned some heads Wednesday at Pirate City with a nice display of power during a brief stint in the batting cage. It was something he didn't show much of last season. Snyder rocketed three pitches over the high left-field fence and onto the roof of the team's locker room. His shots easily cleared the fence between the 335 and 370 foot signs. Snyder, after coming at the trade deadline from Arizona, struggled at the plate when he hit just .169 in 40 games for the Pirates. He did hit five home runs.
• Hurdle promised Wednesday that his Pirates will be considerably more aggressive on the bases this season. "Every player here can become a better base runner than they were last year. When the season starts, we will be dramatically better as a ball club in that area. We don't want to have too many station-to-station guys. We want to be more aggressive. A number of guys will have the green light. We have a lot of guys with usable speed." Hurdle also said he would like to have a spot on the 25-man roster for a specialist. "In the perfect world, we'd like a guy on the bench with game-changing speed, who can come in as a pinch-runner, when everyone in the park knows you need a base, and this guy can go get you a base. That would be nice to have."