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Tony Watson can’t close, but Felipe Rivero shouldn’t, either

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Atlanta Braves v Pittsburgh Pirates Photo by Joe Sargent/Getty Images

The save rule is bad.

If you’ve been reading about baseball for a while, particularly on the internet, you probably know that by now. Any magic the ninth inning possesses — I do believe there’s a little — is negated by the much more real challenges a team can face in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. Saving your best reliever for the ninth while your lead diminishes in the seventh is simply irresponsible.

Which is why Felipe Rivero, easily the Pirates’ best relief pitcher, should not be their closer, at least not exclusively.

It’s obvious Tony Watson needs to be removed from the closer role. The easy solution to this is to not have a closer at all. Someday we’ll get there, but I don’t expect Pittsburgh, 2017 to be that setting.

It’s not that Clint Hurdle is a bad, or even particularly conservative tactical manager. I give him major credit for adjusting his thinking with regard to shifts and the batting order. The fact Rivero hasn’t been pigeonholed yet might even be a credit to the manager. I don’t necessarily see Hurdle using Rivero in the proper way, though, if he puts a big, bold CLOSER label on the lefty.

An Andrew Miller-like usage (with a regular-season adjustment, no three- or four-inning outings yet) would be excellent for Rivero. However, using him as he’s been — plugged into the toughest situation the Pirates face starting in about the seventh inning — is closer to perfect that I trust Hurdle to get. I’d be fine with leaving a good thing alone when it comes to Rivero.

So, assuming the manager will insist on having a capital-c Closer, what are the Pirates’ options? Juan Nicasio, I guess. Daniel Hudson gets knocked, but if he continues to stabilize he could be useful in the ninth. Chad Kuhl has a profile that could play up in the bullpen, though he’d be particularly suited to righty-heavy duty versus a specific inning. Edgar Santana is waiting in triple-a and, well, relievers are fungible and that might just be crazy enough to work.

The important thing is, though, Felipe Rivero needs to continue to get high-leverage work, and not necessarily ninth-inning work.

Poll

Who should be the Pirates’ closer?

This poll is closed

  • 30%
    Juan Nicasio
    (337 votes)
  • 5%
    Daniel Hudson
    (62 votes)
  • 3%
    Tony Watson
    (39 votes)
  • 47%
    Felipe Rivero
    (536 votes)
  • 12%
    Other
    (143 votes)
1117 votes total Vote Now