Relievers Daniel Hudson and Felipe Rivero give Pirates late-game options
February 16, 2017 12:00 AM
Matt York/AP Photo
Daniel Hudson, shown pitching for the Arizona Diamondbacks last season, will be a late-inning set-up man in the Pirates bullpen this season.
Left-hander Felipe Rivero is slated to get late-inning work out of the Pirates bullpen this season.
By Stephen J. Nesbitt / Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
BRADENTON, Fla. — With closer Tony Watson away from camp Wednesday to attend his arbitration hearing in St. Petersburg, Fla., attention turned to his bullpen deputies, right-hander Daniel Hudson and left-hander Felipe Rivero, who will be table-setters for Watson this season.
Neither Hudson, 29, nor Rivero, 25, were at Pirate City for spring training last year. At that time, Watson and Mark Melancon formed the back end of the Pirates’ shutdown bullpen. Now the closer’s role belongs to Watson. The Pirates acquired Rivero in the Melancon trade with Washington in July, and they signed Hudson to a two-year, $11 million contract to end his free agency in December.
Manager Clint Hurdle likes the looks Rivero and Hudson offer late in games. One throws left. One throws right. Both throw gas. In the past two years, they rank 15th and 16th among qualified National League relievers in average fastball velocity — Hudson at 95.8 mph, Rivero 95.7.
“You’ve got Rivero and Watty and then you’ve got a power right-hander like we had with Feliz last year,” Hurdle said, comparing Hudson to right-hander Neftali Feliz, who signed with the Pirates on a one-year deal last offseason and had a 3.52 ERA in seventh-inning and set-up duties.
Hudson didn’t have such a smooth ride last season. In his second full season back from his second Tommy John surgery, he hung a 1.55 ERA in his first 30 appearances for the Arizona Diamondbacks, then allowed 26 earned runs in 9⅔ innings from June 23 to Aug. 2, and ended with a 1.66 ERA in his last 25 appearances. Hurdle believes the 5.22 ERA tells an incomplete story.
“With the numbers we crunched, we liked the man, we liked the swing-and-miss [stuff], the power, the ability to locate,” Hurdle said. “We think he’s going to be a really good addition.”
Hurdle added Hudson can close games when Watson isn’t available. Hudson is game.
“Outside of Tony, I don’t know if anybody’s really got a set role,” Hudson said. “You play matchups, really. If one night they’ve got two out of three lefties coming up in the eighth, Rivero might have the eighth, and maybe I’ll throw the sixth or seventh.
“I think with these guys, the arms in this ’pen, you can be pretty flexible.”
Once Hudson became a free agent last fall, the Pirates were among the first teams to contact his representatives. As the market began to move, the Pirates stayed in contact. From what Hudson had seen and heard about the organization, he said, “it just seemed like the best fit.”
“From early on in the offseason, it seemed they were pretty high on me — they wanted me pretty bad — and it’s good to feel that way,” he said. “From the get-go, the first conversations I had with all the teams, in the back of my mind I pretty much knew it was going to be Pittsburgh.”
With Watson in his final year under contract, Hudson and Rivero represent potential closers in 2018. Hudson is signed through 2018, making $5.5 million both seasons. Rivero will be arbitration-eligible for the first time next winter but won’t reach free agency until after the 2021 season.
Where Melancon ruled with finesse and deception, Rivero’s reign as closer down the road would be predicated on power. The left-hander touched 100.9 mph last season, according to Fangraphs, and played off the fastball with a wicked changeup and slider in two-strike counts.
Rivero is interested in closing one day, he said, but he’s “trying to take it year by year.”
Rivero and Hudson started as starters. Hudson, who tossed 222 innings for Arizona with a 3.49 ERA in 2011, went to the bullpen in 2014 after the back-to-back elbow surgeries and saw his velocity spike. Rivero moved to a relief role in 2015 when the Washington Nationals needed his arm in the majors. He made only eight appearances at Class AAA Syracuse before he debuted.
Rivero, like Hudson, struggled for a stretch last summer. He allowed 13 earned runs in 5⅓ innings over in early June, and his ERA jumped to 6.82. He allowed no more than one earned run in each of his next 30 appearances, spanning 2½ months and the trade to Pittsburgh.
“What happened last year is the Nationals were in first place, and you felt the pressure going to the stadium every day,” Rivero said. “When I got traded, when I got to know the guys here, I was relaxed and more calm. I wasn’t under that much pressure. It turned out pretty good.”
Watson’s arbitration ruling should be announced today. His representatives filed at $6 million, according to reports, while the Pirates countered at $5.6 million. … Right-hander Jason Stoffel skipped his scheduled bullpen session and was icing his right shoulder after workouts. The Pirates did not have an update on his condition.
Stephen J. Nesbitt: email@example.com and Twitter @stephenjnesbitt.
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