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Pittsburgh Pirates Looking for Relief from Their Bullpen

The just-completed, pivotal 10-game stretch began and ended the same way for the Pittsburgh Pirates –– with no one having an answer for the faltering bullpen.

It was a 10-game stretch of schedule that loomed as at worst definitive and at the very least revealing.

It wound up providing the snapshot of the Pirates’ season.

June 21 at Milwaukee.

Trevor Williams was still on the mound in the bottom of the seventh inning after having allowed one run on four hits through six. Williams was still battling, but he’d also walked two and struck out seven and was about out of gas.

Between Williams allowing a single to Keon Braxton and a double to Orlando Arcia to open the bottom of the seventh, hits that immediately threatened the 3-1 lead the Pirates were desperately trying to protect, the ROOT Sports broadcast cut to a shot of the Pirates’ bullpen.

Right-hander Daniel Hudson and left-hander Tony Watson were warming up.

And there you have it.

In the event you had been consumed by the quest for the Stanley Cup for the previous two months and hadn’t been paying very much attention, there, in a nutshell, was the story of the 2017 Pirates.

Can you imagine manager Clint Hurdle’s dilemma right about then?

Watson and Hudson would eventually enter the game in the seventh. The Brewers would eventually score runs with both of them delivering pitches in the inning, with the two runs that would give Milwaukee a 4-3 lead on the way to a 4-3 victory coming on yet another home run allowed by yet another reliever (Hudson this time, again).

Hudson from the right.

Watson from the left.

A failed set-up man and a failed closer.

Both turning high leverage into high anxiety, depending upon whether the gasoline needed to be applied to the fire from the left or the right.

That June Meltdown in Milwaukee was in the middle of the aforementioned, potentially definitive 10-game stretch against the Cubs, Brewers and Cardinals, 10 games against division foes in a division where a hot streak at the right time had a chance to be a season-altering development.

But that 10-game stretch had opened with Juan Nicasio requiring all of two batters to blow a save in the ninth inning in what became a 9-5 loss to the Cubs on June 16.

And it ended on Sunday night in St. Louis, when a 4-2 lead in the sixth degenerated into an 8-4 loss to the Cardinals. Hurdle turned to Watson with a one-run lead, Yadier Molina on second and nobody out after Chad Kuhl had failed to record an out in a sixth inning for what ESPN announced was a Major League record-tying 12th consecutive start.

Any doubt about how that was going to turn out by now?

The Bucs ended up 5-5 on that potentially definitive 10-game stretch, not bad enough to bury them in a division seemingly no one wants to win but not good enough, either.

Their 35-41 record through 76 games heading into Tuesday night’s hosting of Tampa Bay is likewise discouraging.

The bullpen has de-evolved into Felipe Rivero registering a save that requires more than three outs to record or bust, and that’s not a formula for sustainable success, not one that’s going to achieve the type of winning streak the Pirates are going to need to alter the equation, even in a bad division.

This season isn’t being defined by Starling Marte’s suspension or Jung Ho Kang’s inability to gain entry into the country.

There just aren’t enough arms.

And that’s a problem even pitching coach Ray Searage’s mystical whispering into ears hasn’t been able to fix.

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