By John Perrotto
The Pirates have the second-best relief ERA in the major leagues and it’s doubtful anyone saw that coming. After all, the Pirates were unsettled on who would be their closer and had three bullpen spots wide open when spring training began.
Yet the bullpen’s 2.63 earned run average trails only the San Diego Padres (2.28).
One of the biggest reasons for the bullpen’s success is because they have developed an effective 1-2 punch at the backend. Joel Hanrahan has taken the closer’s job, after being picked over Evan Meek, at the start of the exhibition season, and ran with it. Chris Resop has became the top set-up man for Hanrahan as Meek has battled a head cold all season and is currently on the disabled list because of muscle fatigue in his shoulder.
Hanrahan has converted all nine save opportunities while compiling a 1.69 ERA in 15 games and 16 innings. He is fourth in the National League in saves behind Colorado’s Huston Street (11), Florida’s Leo Nunez (11) and San Francisco’s Brian Wilson (10).
While Hanrahan has allowed 18 hits, which has enabled opponents to hit .300 against him, he has helped mitigated that by issuing just four walks while striking out 13.
Hanrahan has been very effective in getting ahead in the count as he has thrown at least one strike in the first two pitches to 91 percent of the batters he has faced and at least two strikes in the first three pitches to 68 percent.
Hanrahan has also shown the ability to finish off hitters as he has recorded outs 91 percent of the times he has gotten to two strikes.
Hanrahan has succeeded without having control of his slider, which he has thrown for a strike just 50 percent of the time. However, Hanrahan’s fastball has been livelier than ever, averaging 97.3 mph, up from 96.0 last season and 94.3 in 2009, the year in which he was acquired from the Washington in a mid-season trade after twice losing the Nationals’ closer job.
Resop has been quietly outstanding, posting a 1.65 ERA in 14 games and 16 1/3 innings. He has given up just 10 hits while striking out 18 and walking seven.
That is a continuation of the good work he did last season after being claimed off waivers from the Atlanta Braves in August then posting a 1.89 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 19 innings.
Resop has not only held opposing hitters to a .172 batting average this season but a miniscule .207 slugging percentage. He has surrendered just two extra-base hits, both doubles, to the 65 batters he has faced.
Resop doesn’t throw as hard as Hanrahan, and his fastball is averaging 92.5 mph. However, he complements it with a big-breaking curveball that prevents hitters from sitting on the heater. Resop also has shown the ability to put away hitters as he recorded outs 82 percent of the time he has gotten to two strikes.
Meek hopes to be activated sometime next week after struggling with a 5.63 ERA in 11 games and eight innings so far this season. If he can regain his form of last season, when he was the Pirates’ lone representative to the All-Star Game while recording a 2.14 ERA in 70 games, it will make an already formidable bullpen even better.