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Pregame: Melancon remains in closer role

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Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Mark Melancon remains closer

Despite Mark Melancon's fairly dramatic velocity decline and his early-season struggles, Clint Hurdle has no immediate plans to remove him from the closer role.

"He is going to close tomorrow, if we have a lead late," Hurdle said. "For me it would be an absolute overreaction to one blown save to make a switch now."

Here are some of the gory details:

Year Line Drive Rate Cutter Velocity Swing Strike Rate Contact rate
2014 19.7 91.8 13.7 73.5
2015 28.6 88.6 7.6 88.6

(Stats courtesy of Fangraphs)

"For us, it's pitch execution more than it is anything," Hurdle said. "I still believe that the velocity will get back to where we've seen it."

Hurdle remarked that for "80 percent" of pitchers there is usually a spike in velocity following spring training, citing Jared Hughes and Tony Watson as examples.

"We haven't seen the spike for Mark," Hurdle said. "From my experience, I'm thinking he is a couple weeks behind for whatever reason. I don't have an answer for that."

It might be worth noting that Melancon threw into November last year, as part of the Japan All-Star Series. Hurdle said one could draw a "correlation" between his participation in the series and velocity issues, but he is not sure that is the correct explanation.

Melancon will be unavailable tonight due to the number of pitches he threw last night.

Morton update

Charle Morton will throw an extended spring training game tomorrow. He will pitch four to five innings and the Pirates hope to get him to 70 pitches.

Mercer update

Jordy Mercer will not start for the third game in a row. However, Hurdle said that he was optimistic that he could a player off the bench tonight and possibly ready to start tomorrow.

No intent

Both Maddon and Hurdle said that they did not believe any of the hit-by-pitches in this series have been intentional. Anthony Rizzo and Andrew McCutchen have both been hit twice so far in this series.

Why Liz ended up with the Pirates

I've been posting excerpts from a wide-ranging conversation I had with Radhames Liz in recent ‘Pregame' notes. This is the fifth installment. The sixth and final installment will include adjustments that he and Ray Searage are working on.

Liz spent last winter playing in the Dominican Summer League and started to draw a lot of attention and when his fastball velocity started to reach the high-90s. In addition to the Pirates, he ended up receiving offers from "[teams in] Korea, Japan and Kansas City, Arizona."

When I asked him why he choose to join the Pirates he said that one of his best friends strongly recommended the Pirates organization.

"Daniel Cabrera told me how great the coaches are here," Liz said. "He said how with the players, everybody is together."

Liz was also attracted by the talent on the Pirates roster.

"Also, [Francisco] Liriano is here, [Starling] Marte, who I know. [Gregory] Polanco who is a great player, and [Andrew] McCutchen, who is a [bleepin'] awesome player. I thought this was a good team with young players. That's why I changed my mind and came here."

I asked him if he thought that Dean Treanor helped bring him to the Pirates attention, as has been speculated.

"Probably, yes," he said. "I thought he liked what he saw. The way I'm serious about my work and not afraid to pitch."