BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates haven't yet settled on who will make the Opening Day bullpen or who will play which roles. They have a few pieces set, plenty of contenders -- some of them out of Minor League options -- and a lot of strong Spring Training performances to consider.
Regardless of the uncertainty, manager Clint Hurdle is confident that his relief corps will put together another strong season. In 2013, Pittsburgh's relievers compiled a 2.89 ERA, the third lowest in the Majors, in 545 2/3 innings, the fourth-most.
"It's an important part of what you do. That's one of the toughest challenges you have, is when games get away late," Hurdle said. "You go six, seven, eight innings and have a lead, and then you don't finish it off. That's part of the dynamic of baseball, and you'll see this year that there will be four or five closers that will go through that, and people will be throwing their hands up in the air and screaming and yelling and shouting how it's a violation.
"Well, we feel confident in the men that we have. They are human beings, and any one of them could go through a stretch where it's challenging. We do believe the overall skill set's going to play out, though, when you talk about the context of a season and the men that we have out there with capable skill sets that can attack you a bunch of different ways, depending on how long our starter goes.
"And we don't feel like we're out of a game if our starter gets knocked out early by any means, with the depth and the length that we have available as well."
Hurdle invites friend Tomlin to address Bucs
BRADENTON, Fla. -- Manager Clint Hurdle invited a speaker to address his team in the clubhouse at McKechnie Field on Monday morning. The guest of honor was a familiar face to the Pirates and just about anyone in Pittsburgh: Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
Tomlin stood just behind the cage and took in a few rounds of batting practice, trading his black Steelers hat for the Pirates' green St. Patrick's Day cap, and spoke to the Pirates at Hurdle's request.
"I'm a big fan of Clint's and what he's doing with the baseball team, so it's great to have an opportunity to come down and spend a day with them," Tomlin said. "It was humbling, really. ... It's an honor to be here."
Hurdle didn't provide any talking points for Tomlin, telling him, simply, to "go give them what you've got."
As it turns out, Tomlin touched on one topic near and dear to Hurdle's heart.
"The one thing he brought to the table today that was impactful was finding ways to acknowledge things that can't be measured," Hurdle said. "That's one of the things that we do talk about here. Everything that can be counted doesn't always count. There's a lot of times that things that you can't count matter as well. He touched on that in front of that group today. It was very impactful."
Tomlin admitted that he doesn't know too much about baseball, but he wanted to challenge the Pirates to embrace the things they can't measure, whether it's the skill level of a teammate or the value of camaraderie in the clubhouse.
Hurdle appreciated not only Tomlin's visit but the bond they've formed over the years.
"There's only a few people you can go to and talk about being a manager or head coach and can say, 'I know what you mean,' and they know what you mean," Hurdle said. "We're like-minded in the fact that we feel to best honor the game, respect the game, you've got to trust the players, you've got to trust the coaches. You make sure that they do understand what's important to you. I think that's always important, that the message is clear, clean, accurate. We know that we're very fortunate to do what we do. I don't think either one of us takes one day for granted. And we're best served being servants, and I truly believe Mike is of that same mind-set.
"We talk about it all the time. His job is to continue to help push that organization forward in his role -- knowing that he's accountable and responsible for a lot of different things that happen at the end of the day. He's no-nonsense. He's up front. He doesn't make excuses. There's a lot to admire in the way he goes about his business professionally and the man that he is personally."
• Right-hander Gerrit Cole pitched five innings (83 pitches) in an intrasquad game against Triple-A players on Monday morning at Pirate City. Cole gave up three earned runs on five hits and four walks while striking out four.
• Left-handed reliever Tony Watson also pitched in an intrasquad game at Pirate City on Monday morning. Watson tossed three innings (35 pitches), giving up one unearned run on three hits while striking out one.