Pirates to choose callups carefully
Roster expansion will be staggered in early September
MILWAUKEE -- Though the Pirates may be stretched a bit thin to get through Monday's day-night doubleheader against the Reds, they'll have reinforcements on the way soon after. Rosters expand from 25 to 40 on Tuesday, giving Pittsburgh flexibility to add some extra bodies to the clubhouse.
General manager Neal Huntington has already promised fewer callups than the Pirate had last year, when 10 extra players joined the big league club on Sept. 1. There will also be a bit of a progression in the callups this year, with a few happening on Tuesday and the rest occurring after the Triple-A season ends on Sept. 7.
The initial additions are likely to include primarily pitching relief, an especially important commodity considering the Pirates are guaranteed to play at least 18 innings on Monday.
As for the rest of the bunch set to join the Bucs, a backup catcher in Robinzon Diaz and first baseman Jeff Clement are likely. But arguably, the most intriguing question will be whether third baseman Neil Walker, the Pirates' first-round pick in the 2004 First-Year Player Draft, will be in the group as well.
A month ago, there seemed little chance that the Pittsburgh-area native would be in line for his Major League debut this month. Not only was there no foreseeable playing time at third base, but Walker hadn't exactly earned a callup with his offensive numbers. But Walker, who ended July hitting .231 for Triple-A Indianapolis, has been among the International League's best hitters in August.
After going 3-for-5 with two homers on Saturday, Walker had hit .363 with 14 doubles, four homers and 29 RBIs this month. And he's beginning to force management's hand.
"We're talking about it," Huntington said when asked about the possibility of bringing Walker to Pittsburgh. "We might be in that situation where we don't have a ton of at-bats for him, but maybe there is some benefit to getting him around [infield coach] Perry [Hill] with where he is in his career. The work that he has been doing down there he can continue up here. He certainly has had a strong finish."
Hill will have another pupil in Clement, whom the Pirates have been eyeing for a callup since acquiring the first baseman/catcher from the Mariners on July 29. With Steve Pearce and Garrett Jones already splitting playing time at first, though, Clement might not get but a handful of starts. Regardless, that's not too large of a concern for the organization as management is most interested in having Clement focus on his defense during the season's final month.
The Pirates will also use Clement's time with the big league club to close up some holes in his swing. Though Clement has driven in 22 and gone deep seven times since joining Indianapolis, he is hitting just .221 overall.
"Obviously, he had a great start, but he's gone through a tough stretch here the last two weeks," Huntington said. "It may be more of a place where our focus with Jeff is the defensive work with Perry Hill and his development there. We can also find out where the struggles are coming from offensively."
On the pitching end, the Pirates will get Donnie Veal (sprained left index finger) off the disabled list soon, and, eventually, Jose Ascanio (right shoulder tendinitis) and Jeff Karstens (lower back strain) as well. Other pitchers currently on the 40-man roster who could be potential callup options include: Virgil Vasquez, Jeff Sues, Jon Meloan and Eric Hacker.
The Bucs already ended the suspense of who would serve as the team's extra starter in September when they announced on Sunday that Daniel McCutchen would be added to the 40-man roster and called up on Monday to make the first of many spot starts. Consequently, that likely takes starters Vasquez and Hacker out of the mix for a September callup.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.