Bob Smizik: Twins-reject Worley excels again

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There's a reason for the near-obsession General Manager Neal Huntington has about maintaining team control over players even to the point it might cost the Pirates a game. That issue has been referenced here before and the prime examples are Jose Contreras and Jose Ascanio. Huntington simply would not let them go until they had proven conclusively they could not help the team. Which they did.

The flip side of that was on display last night. The Minnesota Twins did not share Huntington’s obsession. After one season, they traded Vance Worley to the Pirates for cash. Imagine that! Worley, two seasons removed from an 11-3 record with the Phillies, was deemed expendable by the Twins. Huntington pounced.

Some 12 weeks later, Worley is an upside jolt to the Pirates. After two starts, the second of which helped produce a 5-3 win over the Cubs on Saturday night, Worley has a 1.98 ERA and a 0.80 WHIP. Who knows how long this will last? But for now, Huntington gets to wear the genius cap.

And Worley, along with Jeff Locke, have created this scenario in the Pirates‘‍ rotation: For the moment, there’s no room for Francisco Liriano, who was merely their best starter, by far, last season.

These things have a way of working themselves out and probably will before Liriano comes off the disabled list. But for the moment, the rotation of Charlie Morton, Edinson Volquez, Locke, Worley and Gerrit Cole (due off the DL any day now) means Liriano is on the outside.

Worley went 6 2/3 innings against the Cubs and allowed three runs on five hits. He walked one and struck out four. He gave up a two-run homer to Anthony Rizzo in the fourth and a run-scoring single to Eli Whiteside in the seventh. At that point, he was removed for Jared Hughes, who got the final out in the seventh. The newly aligned back end of the bullpen -- Tony Watson in the eighth and Mark Melancon in the ninth -- retired six straight Cubs to preserve the win. Melancon struck out the side.

Worley remains a work in progress. There’s a reason the Phillies traded him to the Twins and it wasn’t just the inclusion of center fielder Ben Revere in the deal. He had followed his season of 11-3, 3.01 ERA, 1.23 WHIP with one of 6-9, 4.20 ERA, 1.51 WHIP. And there’s a reason why the Twins gave up on him: 1-5, 7.21 ERA, 1.99 WHIP in 2013. Then there was the 13.50 ERA in 10 2/3 innings of spring training. The Twins had seen enough.

They do not, apparently, have Huntington’s obsession with keeping talent beyond the expiration date. Which is to the benefit of the Pirates.

Worley was far from the only story in this victory. The amazing Josh Harrison continues to be, well, amazing. He entered the game in a 1-for-12 funk and, naturally, there was the thought he would revert to the Josh Harrison of old -- the one with a career OPS of .694 OPS and tag of 25th-man.

Harrison again aborted those thoughts. He singled home Jordy Mercer in the third and then produced the game-winner, a two-run homer in the seventh.

Harrison started at third base in place of Pedro Alvarez with Cubs lefty Travis Wood pitching. He had been starting at second base. But with Neil Walker due off the disabled list as early as Monday, Harrison will appear to be a man without a position.

Actually, he has the look of a man who plays every position. Manager Clint Hurdle will just have to decide where it will be. That conclusion is based on this evidence: The batting line of Harrison as a starter in 2014 -- .327/.368/.503 - .872.

Another nice problem to have.


First Published June 22, 2014 12:00 AM

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