CLEVELAND -- Manager Clint Hurdle walked to the mound with two outs in the eighth inning Friday to end the night for Jason Grilli.
Grilli struck out two batters, but walked two, one of which later scored.
The walks, however, didn't bother Hurdle as much as the 24 pitches Grilli threw.
"I had to reassure Jason that I'm not going to sacrifice him," Hurdle said. "If somebody throws a 10-pitch at-bat on him there, he goes 33 pitches -- it's a game in June, we're one run down already, it makes no difference to me."
The move represented the latest facet of Hurdle's strategy to reduce the strain on his relievers, a notion undertaken this year to keep the unit's performance steady as the season progresses.
"I think that has been monitored about as well as we can," Hurdle said. "We haven't had any hiccups health-wise so far.
"[Joel] Hanrahan, we've banged him in an inning because he got up to the 24-25 pitch mark. We don't want him throwing any more than that."
None of the relievers had appeared in more than 28 games before the one Saturday against the Cleveland Indians. Chris Resop's 331/3 innings led the bullpen. The number of appearances was consistent as well: The six main relievers currently in the bullpen all had pitched in between 24 and 28 games.
"I'm not a big fan of external opinion, but, as we play other teams, I look at the bullpen options in other places in regards to games played," Hurdle said. "It gives me at least a good feel at what's going on in the industry. Our numbers are down; they're usually under everybody else's."
Hurdle said Jeff Karstens may need an additional rehabilitation start after his scheduled outing Tuesday with Class AA Altoona.
"Talking to the trainers, it's not just a set one and done," he said. "Just because it's a leg, a foundation."
Karstens has been out nearly two months, first because of shoulder inflammation and more recently due to a sore right hip flexor.
He is scheduled to throw 80 pitches for Altoona Tuesday, Hurdle said.
Hurdle identified July 1 as a possible return for Karstens. He was scheduled to throw a 35-pitch bullpen session Saturday.
An additional rehab start for Karstens means Brad Lincoln will remain in the rotation for at least one and perhaps two additional starts after his scheduled start today.
Chris Leroux, on the 60-day disabled list due to a strained right pectoral muscle, could return near the end of June, Hurdle said.
Leroux has made four rehab appearances, three in relief, for Class AAA Indianapolis.
His return will crowd the bullpen, particularly if Lincoln has returned to a relief role after Karstens' return. Hurdle said the bullpen situation would shape the decision of who Leroux would replace on the active roster.
"When you're talking three weeks, two weeks, down the road, you're talking about, is anybody dinged up?" Hurdle said.
"There's so many variables with still a 12- to 13-day window out there.
"How healthy is our bullpen at that time? How many guys do we have in the bullpen that have options? How well Leroux's pitched."
Jared Hughes and Tony Watson have options, but Leroux does not.pirates
First Published June 17, 2012 12:00 AM