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Pregame: Clint Hurdle discusses bullpen flexibility

Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Changes in bullpen management

One of the early storylines of the season is Clint Hurdle's newfound bullpen flexibility, especially as it pertains to Tony Watson. While limited to the eighth inning for most of last season, Watson's already made two appearances in the seventh. During today's pregame meeting with the press, Hurdle said his revised perspective on Watson's usage came from looking at tape of his work last year and how certain situations could've gone better.

"I'm not ever adverse to listening or trying to learn or getting better," Hurdle said. "When [Jared] Hughes went down, I peeled back more layers. Do I just want to just put somebody in that spot?"

Hurdle said he started to discuss the idea with his pitchers and Neal Huntington. They all came to the conclusion there could be an advantage to employing a more fluid approach with this year's bullpen configuration.

Does this mean that Hurdle has found a new religion and is also willing to eschew being tethered to an appointed closer?

No, not yet; although he did seem to leave open some room for the possibility down the line.

"I think you could [be more flexible with the closer's role], but then you are just dealing with numbers," Hurdle said. "I do think, as we speak right now, the closer needs to be the closer. I don't plan on making any adjustments along those lines right now."

Pirates take on Leake

The Pirates will face a familiar foe on the mound in Mike Leake tonight. Over the past two seasons, the right-hander has posted a 2.69 ERA in 60 1/3 innings pitched against the Bucs. Clint Hurdle doesn't anticipate seeing anything new from Leake.

"I don't know if he needs to change anything against us, based on past performance," Hurdle said. "I can't imagine that he'd want to."

Hurdle said that Leake presents a unique challenge because he can change speeds with a five pitch-mix and his command is good. In particular, he noted the right handers ability to work the lower corners of the zone with a cutter-sinker combination.

"He's got a speed differential and he can paint," the Hurdle said. "Back in the day we called it paint. He's been able to paint."

Bullpen at full strength

Hurdle said that he expected the backend of the bullpen to be at full strength, even though Neftali Feliz, Mark Melancon and Watson have pitched in each of the first two games.