Pirates notebook: Expanded instant replay an instant hit

Both managers took the revised video review rules for a spin in the season opener Monday at PNC Park, which featured the first regular-season managers’ challenges.

Chicago Cubs manager Rick Renteria challenged a play and lost. Pirates manager Clint Hurdle asked for another look later in the game and the call was overturned.

“It’s all new for everybody,” Hurdle said. “Wasn’t a lot of opportunities [in spring training] so we tried to simulate as many as we could mindfully, with conversation, the protocol we’re going to follow.”

A change to the instant replay rules this offseason granted managers the ability to challenge close calls, expanded reviewable plays to cover almost everything on the field and established a replay command center at MLB Advanced Media headquarters in New York. Umpires staff the command center and rule on the plays there, relaying their decisions to the field umpires working the game.

The first regular-season challenge in Major League Baseball came in the fifth inning of the game. The Cubs had runners on first and second, no outs, and pitcher Jeff Samardzija at the plate. Samardzija bunted back to Pirates pitcher Francisco Liriano, who threw to third for a forceout.

Pedro Alvarez fired across the diamond to retire Samardzija at first, but Renteria came out to challenge the play, saying Samardzija had beat the throw. Umpires in the replay command center in New York confirmed the call on the field. The process took roughly two minutes from the time Renteria left the dugout.

Neil Walker, who covered first base on the play, didn’t realize until later how close the call was.

“I didn’t feel it because he kind of stretched for it,” Walker said. “He didn’t really hit the bag real hard.”

Hurdle challenged a play that was overturned in the 10th. Pirates right-hander Bryan Morris wheeled to pick off Emilio Bonifacio at first, and Travis Ishikawa applied the tag, but first-base umpire Bob Davidson called Bonifacio safe. Hurdle asked for a replay, and the umpires in New York overturned the call. Bonifacio was out. The next batter struck out to end the inning.

“That could have been the change in the game as far as maybe something happening right there on the opposite side of things,” Walker said. “It slowed the game down a little bit. I know probably fans weren’t excited about that, especially late in the game without much action going on. They got the call right. It was just.”

Hurdle said he was on his way onto the field when the Pirates staffer tasked with advising the dugout whether or not to challenge a call passed word that Bonifacio was out.

“I do know that there’s no need to go busting out of the dugout right away,” he said. “You give it some time, your guy’s on it, working on it.”

Bullpen formula

The bullpen usage Monday closely resembled the formula from 2013, but Hurdle gave some indications before the game as to how he would manage it.

Left-hander Tony Watson pitched the seventh, Mark Melancon the eighth and closer Jason Grilli the ninth. Hurdle said the Pirates would monitor innings for Grilli, 37, after he spent time on the disabled list in 2013.

“We set up a different type schedule to him,” in spring training, Hurdle said. “He met every challenge we put out, pitched the innings he needed to pitch.”

Hurdle also said left-hander Justin Wilson usually would pitch before Watson if the situation called for a left-hander.

Bill Brink: bbrink@post-gazette.com and Twitter @BrinkPG.

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