NEW YORK -- In a sideways sort of way, simply conquering .500 -- which would have been a major letdown a mere month ago -- has turned into a possibly significant accomplishment for the Pirates.And the Bucs want it -- but apparently not badly enough to prioritize it over planning ahead. Two rookie pitchers who, as of Monday afternoon, hadn't yet won a Major League game -- Kyle McPherson and Jeff Locke -- remain in the season-closing rotation, while one deserving veteran, Jeff Karstens, is on the outside. Manager Clint Hurdle made no bones about the motive behind the continued use of McPherson and Locke: With A.J. Burnett the only veteran starter on the staff signed for 2013, the club has to see what it might have in the two rookies. "Our focus right now is to get them some starts. As we build the club forward, whatever changes might take place, we have to think of how we can add value to the starting rotation," Hurdle said. As for fixating on a winning record, Hurdle reaffirmed his greater interest in performance than in results. "It's not a rallying cry, but we're aware of it," the manager said of .500. "For us, it would be a good finish, because it will take seven wins [out of the last 10] to get to 82. It would be a very positive statement with which to finish the season."
Pirates taking a look at lefty Wilson in relief role
NEW YORK -- Pirates brass envisions hard-throwing Justin Wilson as an ideal matchup left-hander. Problem is, every time his conversion to the bullpen was brought up, Wilson went out and pitched a no-hitter.A slight exaggeration, of course. But the 25-year-old Californian did pitch most of two no-hitters for Indianapolis this season, part of his 9-6 record at Triple-A, to put off his transition to the bullpen. "We felt compelled to flip him [to relief] about halfway through the season, and about the time of that conversation he threw a no-hitter. So we kinda backed away a little bit," said manager Clint Hurdle. Wilson thus wound up starting 25 of his 29 appearances for Indianapolis, but the Bucs still like the idea of his 95-mph fastball busting some of the league's toughest left-handed hitters. Wilson's stuff plays differently than that of the only lefty to have spent the entire season in the Pittsburgh bullpen; Tony Watson's stuff is equally, sometimes even more, effective against right-handed batters. "Justin shows you flashes of stuff to be a quality Major League starter. If not, he could be a left-handed reliever who throws really hard," general manager Neal Huntington had said midseason. Wilson's late-season apprenticeship in that role has turned heads, not changed minds. In six very limited outings, he has struck out five in 3 1/3 innings. Wilson has been predominantly a starter during four years in the Minors, but the Pirates have had good recent luck converting Minor League starters to relief. Jared Hughes started almost exclusively for five years until taking up relief work in Indianapolis last year, and this season has been one of the Majors' top rookies. "The one thing I've talked to [Wilson] about is being super aggressive, just going out there and not holding anything back," Hughes said. "You want to go out there and give it your best stuff; there's no reason to pace yourself. He's fitting in pretty well. He seems to know what to do."
Led by starters Locke, Kevin Correia and Burnett, the Pirates fanned 12 batters in each game of the weekend series in Houston -- the first time in modern (1900-on) club history that the Bucs whiffed 12-plus in three straight games. The staff began Monday night's game with 1,114 strikeouts -- 10 short of the club record set in 1969 -- when Bob Veale led with 213. In Sunday's 8-1 win in Houston, the Bucs scored that many runs without the aid of a homer for only the second time this season. On June 1, they notched an 8-2 win in Milwaukee without going deep.
"I'd be interested to hear the actual conversation from those who don't think a knuckleballer deserves the Cy Young Award. 'If they didn't have that pitch, they wouldn't be real good.' Well, they got that pitch, and not many people do. If I had a vote, I'd have no problem voting for a knuckleball pitcher."
-- Hurdle, joining the debate about whether a knuckleball pitcher such as the Mets' R.A. Dickey deserves a Cy Young Award over more classic hurlers like Washington's Gio Gonzalez.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.