PHILADELPHIA -- Though they had to say goodbye to a reliable reliever in Vin Mazzaro on Saturday, baseball's third-best bullpen in ERA in 2013 has a chance to be even better in '14, according to Pirates manager Clint Hurdle.
"We have had a good bullpen every year we have been here," said Hurdle, knocking on his desk top. "[GM] Neal [Huntington] does a fantastic job in the winter in reaching out and finding fits -- guys who could be available when things are not going well, which, let's face it, is the only reason they are available. Our pitching people have done a great job at helping [pitchers] figure things out, stabilizing them.
"We hear, 'You have had three [good] years in a row, and from a statistical analysis perception, you are due to have a bad one.' That's like telling 30 men in a room that only one is going to make it to the big leagues, when there could be four in that room and none in another room of 30."
Hurdle is confident not only in the 'pen, but also in the progress of the starting rotation.
"We believe in the men and the process we follow," Hurdle said. "And it's always going to help to challenge our starters to get more innings out of them, providing more of a safety net than we have had in the past. We move on this year with a healthy Wandy [Rodriguez], Francisco [Liriano], and [Charlie] Morton from the start -- and [Gerrit] Cole.
"The two length options [Pimentel and Gomez] makes all the sense in the world for me. And you have a guy [in Pimentel] who when you look at who might stay and who might go next year [when the contracts of Liriano, Rodriguez and Edinson Volquez will have expired] to fill in the stating rotation. [Pimentel's] is a big arm that needs to pitch and get experience. We like the way he has gone about his education."
Justin Wilson aced his exams last season, adding another dynamic left-handed presence to Tony Watson, in front of Mark Melancon and closer Jason Grilli.
"I am just very confident about the skill sets," said Hurdle. "You have the two left-handers that can get after it with velocity and spin, two length options, and Morris, who continues to grow."
"We don't have anyone set up to face only a left- or right-handed hitter. We have four guys who have pitched multiple innings in Spring Training, and the two guys at the end who have been very, very good.
With all but one holdover from last year's bullpen, the Pirates also have pitchers who have gained trust in themselves through a first-stretch drive and playoff experiences.
"[Our relievers] have more understanding of the league and individual hitters," Hurdle said. "They have more street cred from situations that they dealt with last season. They have postseason experience, which I don't think any of them had. I think we are in a good place."
Pirates designate Mazzaro to finalize 'pen
PHILADELPHIA -- The Pirates settled on their 2014 Opening Day bullpen on Saturday by designating right-hander Vin Mazzaro for assignment. Since he is out of options, the team has 10 days to trade Mazzaro -- who allowed 23 runs and 68 hits in 73 2/3 innings of relief in 2013 -- before having to outright him to Triple-A Indianapolis or release him.
"Essentially, we have a week to try and trade him, and if that doesn't happen, we will have to ask for outright waivers," said general manager Neal Huntington. "But I would be shocked if he gets through the outright waiver process. We will look to put Vin in a good spot."
Essentially, Mazzaro lost out to the promise of Stolmy Pimentel, the versatility of Jeanmar Gomez and the growth of Bryan Morris, all of whom also were out of options.
"Vin is a good man," Huntington said. "He's a good pitcher. He threw the ball great for us a year ago, took the ball in length and got some important outs for us in the eighth inning. From what we see of Bryan Morris, we think he can do that and grow into something more.
"In Pimentel, we see a guy who has all the ability to be a starter as we move forward. And Jeanmar took the ball in almost every role last year."
The Pirates also selected the contract of first baseman Travis Ishikawa, released pitcher Andy Oliver and placed the rehabbing Jeff Locke and Chris Stewart on the 15-day DL. They have space for one more player on the their 40-man roster, but pending the inevitable next injury, there is no room for another reliever.
Jay Greenberg is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.