Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Bullpen Giving Up Too Many Late Hrs

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Bullpen Giving Up Too Many Late Hrs

Article excerpt

Three weeks into this season, Anthony Rendon is as tough an out as there is. Facing the Washington Nationals third baseman with the bases loaded and a one-run lead in the bottom of the ninth doesn't make it any easier.

But Felipe Vazquez had it even harder than that Sunday. He was in his second inning, his pitch count climbing into the 40s as the Pirates look for new ways to convert late leads into victories.

The back end of the bullpen has struggled through the first 14 games. Specifically, two of their late-inning right-handers, Richard Rodriguez and Keone Kela, have had trouble keeping the ball in play. Kyle Crick got off to a great start before landing on the injured list. Vazquez has yet to allow an earned run, but he has had to convert a five-out save April 10 and a two-inning outing Sunday.

"You have to be confident," Vazquez said. "It starts with confidence. You have to be confident in yourself and what you can do and what your stuff is that day. Every time I go out there, I feel comfortable with what I can do. You see that the team had confidence in me by giving me two innings. I couldn't let the team down."

Kela allowed a two-run home run in the eighth inning April 3 that blew a two-run lead and led to an extra-innings loss to the St. Louis Cardinals. He has allowed two home runs in his past three outings, one April 6 and another Friday.

"Keone is fighting," manager Clint Hurdle said. "He is another guy who's battling. He gave up the home run. But now what? He handled it. He put away the home run and finished the inning. He didn't let it take the fight out of him."

In the game Saturday, the Pirates turned to Rodriguez with a lead in the eighth. Rodriguez had allowed a three-run homer opening day that turned a tie game into an eventual loss, then allowed another homer in the home-opener loss.

"We're trying to give [Kela] a little space," Hurdle said after Saturday's game. …

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