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Chat transcript: Bylsma’s chalkboard blank or busy?

By Dejan Kovacevic | Trib Total Media

Here’s today’s chat transcript covering the Penguins’ many personnel changes for Game 5, the Steelers’ wide receiver depth, Pedro Alvarez’s struggles with the Pirates, plus more.

Thanks to all for participating.

Author: Dejan Kovacevic

Dejan Kovacevic, a lifelong Pittsburgher, is an award-winning sports columnist for Trib Total Media covering the Steelers, Penguins, Pirates, Pitt and more, including his fourth Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He also appears on WPXI-TV's 'Subway Final Word’ and hosts a weekly show on TribLIVE Radio. For 2011, he was named one of the top four columnists in the country -- highest circulation category -- by the AP Sports Editors. For 2012, he was named one of the top three columnists in the country by the National Headliners Awards. For 2013, he was named top columnist in the state by the Keystone Awards and second-place by the Pennsylvania AP Managing Editors.


  1. I know Dejan was being facetious in saying the bullpen will wear out by June, but the two chat questions do touch on a point Milo made yesterday.

    In this whole starters-not-pitching-enough-innings-thus-wearing-out-the-bullpen discussion, aren’t we really only talking about middle relief?

    Clint Hurdle uses Melancon and Grilli in the 8th and 9th only with a lead. Period.

    Starting pitching has nothing to do with that usage, accept of course pitching well enough to get them an appearance in the first place. I think we can all agree that their usage is a good sign thus far.

    If people are worried about those two being overworked, isn’t Clint Hurdle to blame, not the starting pitching?

    • Yes and Yes to your questions.

      1. More middle relief than the closers will wear down, however, I do think a lot of the MR guys are former starters at one point, so their arms should be used to 150+ innings a season.

      2. If the starters can get 7/8/9 that would take them directly to Melancon and/or Grilli. Normally closers/setup guys won’t pitch 3 games consecutively so at some point this season if the Pirates go on a nice winning stretch, someone else would have to pick up the save.

      I do think that there are great young arms in the minors. I believe the depth is there, as far as RP’s are concerned.

      I’m also a fan of turning a young starter into a BP guy, similiar to what TB did with David Price, but not many people have DP’s type of stuff either.

      I think the arms are there, maybe not all up yet, but the depth is there.

      • You bring up another good point, Ryan.

        Nothing says that the middle relievers currently on the staff HAVE to be the middle relievers for the entire season.

        Between the guys coming back from injury, the trade deadline, and roster expansion in September, there will be plenty of opportunity to replace some arms IF they get worn down.

    • I totally miss your logic. You seem to be saying that even if the starters do well, Melancon and Grilli come in, but their potential overuse is Clint’s fault? Does not compute.

      • No problem, bud. Here’s the specific quote I was referencing:

        “As I’ve been writing for a bit, though, their( Melancon and Grilli) pace of appearances right now has red flags written all over it. Other pitchers need to step up, especially now that Jared Hughes has taken a big step back.”

        Right away, the length of start is taken out of the equation (unless you expect starters to go 8-9 innings).

        Their number of appearances and innings pitched per appearance are solely dependant on how Clint Hurdle uses them. If they’re two things certain in Pirate baseball, they’re Melancon pitching the 8th and Grilli pitching the 9th with a lead. (Dare I say by-the…ah, nevermind :) )

        Logic would dictate that the only way they end up overworked is if the Pirates lead in the 8th inning very often, AND Hurdle continues using these two exclusively for that situation.

        • Honestly, Im not trying to be difficult, but are you suggesting that Clint should use someone other than Melancon and Grilli in the 8th and the 9th at times? If so, whom(s)?

          • As good as Grilli and Melancon have been, they’ve only held and saved two one run games.

            I believe it is highly likely that they are not the only two relievers capable of protecting a 2-3 run lead.

            • OK, who(s) your choice(s)?

              And just to add a little bit of facts to the discussion, I don’t think Grilli has blown a save, and I don’t recall Melancon failing, either, so I don’t get the relevance of how manny runs the Bucs were ahead. You can’t do more than what you are faced with.

              But, if so, who’s available that Clint is overlooking?

              • Hold on, I wasn’t even close to criticizing Melancon and Grilli. Lets get that straight.

                This discussion is about the potential for them to be overworked, not their effectiveness.

                A very simple solution to this problem would be to use another capable reliever – Watson, Contreras, Wilson – from time to time in lower leverage situations, i.e. multiple run lead.

              • By the way, how great is it that we’re worried about our 8th and 9th inning guys being overworked?

                That is the definition of a good problem to have.

              • Watson’s been pretty shaky of late. But I’m cool with the idea of using those guys with a 3 run lead, so long as you don’t criticize Clint afterwards if they fail.

              • I’m not saying Clint give MM and JG the day off and leave the rest of the guys to fend for themselves in 2-3 run situations.

                With as good as both pitchers have been, I’m fully confident in either coming in if another reliever were to get in trouble.

                My basic point is that I don’t believe it takes a “shutdown” reliever to protect a 2-3 run leade for an inning or two.

          • At times? Yes, like I said, very rarely does a closer/setup guy pitch more than 3 games in a row.

            So someone else does need to step up, but as DK said in the chat, Hughes has taken a huge down turn.

            Who? Tougher question.

          • Maybe Karstens and/or McDonald being slotted into middle relief (and maybe Locke if Cole comes up in June) will provide fresh relief to the middle relief. What about Welker – is his stint temporary?

            • We’re not really talking about middle relief, but 8th and 9th inning shutdown guys.

            • Maybe I should ask it this way – Welker throws 98 and supposedly looked good in AAA. Would he be a good fit to come in to spell Melancon or Grilli?

              Also with the rotation in the near future being Burnett, Rodriguez, Liriano, Morton and Locke (Cole in for Locke at some point barring injuries), where does Karstens and McDonald go? Would it make sense to start converting McDonald to a 7/8/9 inning guy?

              • I think your original comment had merrit in that adding a Karstens, McDonald, or someone similar to middle relief would allow some of the other guys to be used in place of Melancon and Grilli with multiple run leads.

                Watson, Morris, Wilson, and Contreras have only given up more than one run in 3 of 34 appearances this year. It does not take a specialist to protect a 2-3 run lead.

              • McDonald first has to learn how to consistently throw strikes

              • Agreed, they need to work with him….but here is an issue. You get 7 relievers, they have Grilli, Melancon, Watson, Contreras, Wilson…so the last two slots would be from Karstens, McDonald, Morris, Welker, Gomez, Mazzaro….getting crowded soon (once again, barring injury)

            • I think Grilli will come into every game that has the potential of a save….unless he has already pitched 3 days in a row.

              And I want to OFFICIALLY go on record that I do not have any problems with how Clint is using Melancon and Grilli.
              The goal is to win games. Win them at the beginning, middle and end of the season.

              If you start trying to protect them too much in the early part of the season, what happens if the situations that they normally pitch in don’t materialize later in the season (blow-outs, other non-save situations, come from behind wins at the end of games, leads blown)

              • +1

              • I fully agree with this.

                This entire conversation of Melancon and Grilli getting overworked IN THE FUTURE is assuming the Pirates win at least 90 or so games.

                Otherwise, neither pitchers appearance rate will stay this high.

                I’m all for getting there first and figuring it out then.

      • Me?

    • I’d say no.

      If you remove Gomez’s 2 starts from his innings, Melancon is #2 in innings pitched by this bullpen. The team has 18 wins; Melancon has 17 appearances. I didn’t go back and check and see which games Melancon pitched, but he’s on pace to throw in 83 games, 83 innings. Career high for games and the most innings he’s pitched since his A-ball days. Grilli’s more in line with 73 games, 69 innings at his current rate, which would be more than he pitched last year. Justin Wilson, on the other hand, is set to eclipse the 100 inning mark as a reliever, which hasn’t been done in 25 years or so (as far as I could tell). Watson’s on pace for 74 innings too.

      So, your 4 best relievers are on pace to either eclipse last year’s high, their career high, or do so something that hasn’t been done since Kent Tekulve hurled a baseball.

      I’d say it impacts more than just the “middle” guys. The whole bullpen is impacted. Maybe the closer is the only exception. Maybe.

      • And the answer is?

        • Or should I say solution?

          • May I suggest a solution?

            Make the starters go deeper than a weak 5.0 innings per start. Just make em. And make em pitch WELL later into games.

            Do it.

            And then maybe there wouldn’t be so much strain on the pen.


            There’s a solution.

            So make it happen (Clint).

            Or else.

            (Or else what? Glad you asked. Or else another Epic Collapse when fading starters put more and more strain on the pen. Sound epically familiar?)

            • Remember last year when Clint was getting grief because he wasn’t pitching Hanrahan enough. Not pitching him in tied games, not pitching him for more than 3 outs.


              In regards to Melancon and Grilli, he is pitching them in the situations that a 8th inning set-up guy and the closer should pitch in. And they are winning.

              • I have no problem using what works – if they keep winning with those two, great…all for it. But can Melancon keep up that pace? I’d love it if he’d have an ERA under 1 in September and have 40 holds, but his track record shows he’s going to come back to Earth a little at some point. Good to have a back up plan, and a back-up to the back up plan.

          • I’m good with that solution, but I don’t know how Clint MAKES the starters go longer. He’s criticized WAY more on here for leaving a starter in too long when he doesn’t have it than taking him out too soon. Yes, I am aware of the Locke situation and the new best Pirates pitcher Jeanmar’s situation in their last starts. That’d hardly a pattern at this point.

      • Melancon has only pitched in one non-8th inning hold situation in the last month.

        The extra appearances came at the beginning of the year when, I presume, Clint was still getting a feel for his bullpen. He’s been very clear in interviews exactly when these two will be used.

        Starting pitching length does not increase their workload.

    • The coroner just called. The horse is dead. :)

  2. DK—I can’t gauge your intent. I have to just go with my interpretation of what you wrote. I tried to go back to find it and couldn’t, so I have to go with my maybe faulty recollection. But my interpretation of your column about Bylsma’s status is different than yours in the chat. My interpretation was you were saying he was safe even if they went out in the first round 4-0. And you agreed with that. Sure, things change, but that was my interpretation of what you said at the time.

  3. Nice chat, great questions and answers….well, mostly great questions.

  4. I know this isn’t the baseball thread yet, but just saw Joel Hanrahan got moved to the 60 day DL.

  5. Russell Martin back in there tonight.

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