Before the non-waiver trade deadline, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said, the Pirates attempted to acquire another left-handed reliever. When they found some options unavailable and others that cost too much for their liking, they turned to Class AAA Indianapolis left-hander Justin Wilson, a starter they will convert to relief in the hopes that he can help the Pirates in the final months of the season.
"Justin has more than enough stuff to pitch in that role, effectively in that role," Huntington said.
Wilson started Thursday night due to the promotion of Jeff Locke to the majors and happened to throw a rain-shortened no-hitter. But the Pirates will pitch him on back-to-back days and send him out to pitch in the middle of an inning, Huntington said, to acclimate him to the rigors of relief work.
"In a perfect world, we don't want to bring a guy to the big leagues and have him do something he hasn't done before," Huntington said.
The Pirates activated right-hander Juan Cruz from the 15-day disabled list before the game Sunday against the San Diego Padres and optioned right-hander Jared Hughes to Class AAA Indianapolis.
Cruz went on the disabled list July 21, retroactive to July 18, due to right shoulder inflammation. He did not allow a run in nine appearances in April and four in 11 games in May, but he gave up five runs on 10 hits in 72/3 innings in June. He appeared in five games in July before going on the DL.
"We're optimistic that his own time down can give him a breath of fresh air, and he can get after it again like we saw early April and May and even through early June," manager Clint Hurdle said.
Cruz allowed two runs on five hits in 11/3 innings spread across two rehabilitation outings for Class AA Altoona.
Hughes led Pirates relievers with 47 appearances before Sunday. He allowed one run in 11 appearances in July, but yielded six runs in his past four appearances, spanning six innings.
"He continues to stress the point that he feels good," Hurdle said. "We're going to take that in hand."
Hurdle said it was possible that Hughes would return to the Pirates before playoff rosters are locked Aug. 31. The Pirates cannot recall him from the minors for 10 days unless someone on the active roster goes on the DL.
Hughes allowed a run in three consecutive outings before pitching 21/3 scoreless innings Saturday night. He got Padres outfielder Carlos Quentin to fly out with the bases loaded to end an inning.
"Last year at this time, he had thrown more innings because he was starting at the start of the season, but this is a different workload," Hurdle said. "I was very encouraged by the way he was able to pitch last night after three outings where he was challenged. As I told him, this really doesn't have to do with performance. This has to do with numbers."
Huntington said the Pirates have no plans to remove James McDonald, who has struggled since the All-Star break, from the rotation.
"We see [McDonald] as a very good starting pitcher for us for years to come and are trying to find the best way to get him back on track," Huntington said.