Terrific bullpen performance an April bright spot
From Hanrahan to middle relievers, Pirates locking foes down
SAN DIEGO -- The Pirates expected the back end of their bullpen to be one of the team's strengths in 2011. So far, success has not been limited to the team's late-inning relievers.
Somewhat unexpectedly, the Pirates' bullpen turned out to be arguably the brightest spot in the first month of the season. One year after posting a 4.57 ERA (ranking 28th out of 30 teams), the 'pen entered Monday boasting a 2.09 mark -- that's the lowest of any club in the Major Leagues.
"I'm seeing a bunch of guys with a lot of confidence who are throwing a lot of strikes," said veteran lefty reliever Joe Beimel. "We feel if we come in with a lead, we're going to keep it. If we come in, our job is just to keep a game close. We've been able to do that for a while."
Joel Hanrahan has not blown a save in eight opportunities, but he is hardly the only one contributing. Chris Resop has allowed just one hit in his past eight outings. Jose Veras has been scored upon just twice in 12 games.
Beimel has made six scoreless appearances since his first outing, and Daniel McCutchen, who was called up from Triple-A on April 9, has not allowed a run.
"They are prepared, number one," said pitching coach Ray Searage. "They stay sharp. [Manager] Clint [Hurdle] has done a great job in not abusing them. It's so early in the season, but they're well-prepared and they're professionals. They know how to do their job and how to take care of their job."
The constantly changing makeup of the Pirates' bullpen was one reason why there were so many questions heading into the season. Not a single member of Pittsburgh's current relief corps was in the team's 2010 Opening Day bullpen.
McCutchen was on the team, but he began as a member of the starting rotation. Hanrahan started last season on the disabled list. Michael Crotta and Daniel Moskos were pitching in the Minors, while the rest of the group -- Beimel, Veras and Resop -- were not yet members of the organization.
Tabata still out, will be re-evaluated Tuesday
SAN DIEGO -- Outfielder Jose Tabata remained out of the Pirates' lineup on Monday, and manager Clint Hurdle did not offer a guess as to when the outfielder might be cleared to return.
Tabata has been sidelined with right hamstring tightness, which became an issue early in Saturday's loss to the Rockies.
Though Tabata said on Sunday that he expected to be back on the field Tuesday, Hurdle said no such discussion has been had. Rather, the Pirates plan to re-evaluate Tabata's status on Tuesday to see how much he has improved.
Tabata, who was not available to pinch-hit on Monday, was able to do some exercises and take some swings in the indoor cage. "I feel better," he said, after finishing up the workout.
For the second consecutive day, Xavier Paul took Tabata's place in left field.
Jameson Taillon made his second start for Class A West Virginia on Monday. Taillon, the Pirates' 2010 first-round Draft pick, pitched four scoreless innings. He struck out six, allowed two hits and did not walk a batter. Taillon's professional debut last week was shortened due to rain.
Evan Meek underwent an MRI on his right shoulder Monday in Pittsburgh. The exam confirmed the team's original diagnosis of tendinitis. Meek will continue to rest to allow the inflammation to subside before slowly returning to the mound. General manager Neal Huntington said he's unsure whether Meek will be ready to come off the disabled list when he is eligible on May 12.
Righty Ross Ohlendorf (right shoulder posterior strain) remains scheduled to throw live batting practice at PETCO Park prior to Tuesday's game.
The Pirates announced that the Pepsi MAX Packs are returning for every remaining Friday night home game this season. For $20, fans can get one outfield box seat, a regular hot dog, one soft pretzel and one regular Pepsi product. Free T-shirts are also given out every Friday night.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.