PHILADELPHIA — The Pirates made their final transactions Saturday, trimming an overcrowded bullpen to seven pitchers and setting their 25-man roster for opening day.
Right-hander Vin Mazzaro, one of the four relievers without minor league options competing for a spot, was designated for assignment. Left-hander Andy Oliver cleared waivers and was sent outright to Class AAA Indianapolis. Those moves cleared two spots on the 40-man roster, and the Pirates used one of them to add first baseman Travis Ishikawa, a non-roster invitee this spring.
Catcher Chris Stewart and left-hander Jeff Locke went on the 15-day disabled list, Stewart to recover from surgery on his right knee and Locke to build up his pitch count after an oblique issue slowed him in spring training. Those moves are retroactive to March 21, meaning they can return as early as April 5.
The Pirates announced the moves a few hours after steady rain forced the cancellation of their final exhibition game against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park.
The moves set the bullpen: closer Jason Grilli, setup man Mark Melancon, left-handers Tony Watson and Justin Wilson, long relievers Jeanmar Gomez and Stolmy Pimentel, and right-hander Bryan Morris. Gomez, Pimentel and Morris, all right-handers, also were out of options.
“Our challenge was, we had four guys that we liked and liked a lot,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “They fit on the club in different ways and we made a very tough decision to take three guys over Vin.”
Mazzaro, 27, had a 2.81 ERA in 57 appearances in 2013 and stranded 78.6 percent of runners on base. He was eligible for arbitration for the first time this winter and will make $950,000 this season; the other three will make slightly more than the $500,000 major league minimum salary.
Huntington implied that the Pirates are close to trading Mazzaro in the next week, before they must put him on waivers.
“We’ve had conversations,” he said. “If he gets to the outright waiver process, it will be a surprise to us.”
That the Pirates made their decision on the odd-man out might help other teams settle on trade offers, Huntington and manager Clint Hurdle said, because the interest wasn’t limited to Mazzaro.
“There were teams interested in everybody in that bullpen,” Hurdle said. “Everybody.”
The Pirates bullpen ranked third in the majors in 2013 with a 2.89 ERA. Grilli saved 33 games despite missing time because of a forearm injury. Melancon had 16 saves in Grilli’s absence and yielded just eight walks in 71 innings. Wilson and Watson represent possibly the best left-handed tandem in any bullpen in baseball.
“I’m just very confident about the skill sets,” Hurdle said. “When you’ve got the two left-handers that can get after it with the velocity and spin that they have, when you’ve got two length options coming out early, when you’ve got Morris, who continues to grow and get better — we don’t have anybody that’s situationally set up to only face a right- or left-handed hitter. We’ve got four guys that have pitched multiple innings all through spring training and then you’ve got the two guys at the end that have been very, very good.”
The Pirates wanted to retain Pimentel, 24, as a second long reliever, which gives Hurdle more flexibility and helps if a starter is knocked out of a game early. They also see Pimentel, who has started for most of his minor league career, as an option for the rotation next year. Francisco Liriano, Wandy Rodriguez and Edinson Volquez are free agents after this season.
“It’s a big arm that needs to pitch and needs to get experience,” Hurdle said. “We like the way he’s gone about his education process.”
Ishikawa, 30, a left-handed batter, will join right-handed Gaby Sanchez at first base. Hurdle said he will not employ a strict lefty-righty platoon and that Sanchez will get some at-bats against right-handers, meaning he will play more often.
Stewart is recovering from surgery March 19 that repaired the meniscus in his right knee. He is expected back in mid- to late April. Tony Sanchez will back up Russell Martin in Stewart’s absence. Locke, who spent all of 2013 in the rotation, will build his pitch count. The oblique strain forced him to miss time in spring training.
Oliver, 26, has not appeared in the majors with the Pirates. The command troubles he had in the Detroit Tigers organization intensified in his first year with the Pirates. He walked 112 batters in 1241⁄3 innings at Indianapolis in 2013.
45 Cole, Gerrit
30 Gomez, Jeanmar
39 Grilli, Jason
47 Liriano, Francisco (LH)
35 Melancon, Mark
29 Morris, Bryan
50 Morton, Charlie
38 Pimentel, Stolmy
51 Rodriguez, Wandy (LH)
36 Volquez, Edinson
44 Watson, Tony (LH)
37 Wilson, Justin (LH)
55 Martin, Russell
26 Sanchez, Tony
24 Alvarez, Pedro
12 Barmes, Clint
5 Harrison, Josh
3 Ishikawa, Travis
10 Mercer, Jordy
17 Sanchez, Gaby
18 Walker, Neil
6 Marte, Starling
22 McCutchen, Andrew
23 Snider, Travis
31 Tabata, Jose
DISABLED LIST (2)
49 Locke, Jeff (LHP)
19 Stewart, Chris (C)
First Published March 29, 2014 2:28 PM