After an unsettling ninth inning, one thing became clear in the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 3-1 loss Wednesday night to the Atlanta Braves: Arquimedes Caminero needs to be DFA’d.
This isn’t an emotional reaction, it’s one that has been building.
Caminero had a great season last year, but, this season, his pitches are finishing on more of a straight angle, and his quicker pace of play may have created a mental block. And when a player struggles for an extended period of time, bad habits can be hard to break.
It’s not to say his control is solely to blame — he threw 13 of his 19 ninth inning pitches for strikes — but his struggles have still been alarming.
Last season there were warning signs, but pitching coach Ray Searage had Caminero going for more ground ball pitches (with some success). Now, as this season has gone on, Caminero is the bullpen arm who causes most concern — and we’re talking about a bullpen that has been very shaky this season.
This is bizarre in many ways.
For one, talking about a Pittsburgh bullpen having issues just doesn’t seem right. It almost feels that a consistent bullpen is basic necessity for a Pirates team. But this year has been anything but consistent for the bullpen, and it has, at times, masked and overshadowed the success of the Pirates’ offense. On Tuesday, a bullpen disaster offset a season-high 21 hits and made it so closer Mark Melancon was unavailable Wednesday.
Facing the Braves, who are, by far, the worst team in baseball at the moment, there shouldn’t have been any issues. But, facing the Pirates’ bullpen, the Braves suddenly looked like they have a Cooperstown-worthy lineup.
Caminero was brought to keep the game where it was: 2-0. When he came in, Pittsburgh still had that hopeful feeling — this was still a game.
But Caminero led off with a walk, one of the cardinal sins in baseball. That batter, Chase d’Arnaud, scored on a Gordon Beckham double. Caminero surrendered another hit, which placed runners at first and third base. But Caminero then benefitted from a double play.
To date, Caminero has a 5.74 ERA, which is the second highest on the team. Cory Luebke ranks first, but he has thrown 12 fewer innings, and he spent the vast majority of his time on the mound pitching through injury.
The Pirates have had a good season thus far, which is hard to do when the bullpen is right there with the worst in the major leagues.
And when there are struggles, someone always gets blamed.
It certainly won’t be Searage or bullpen coach Euclides Rojas, both of whom were given a vote of confidence via job security through the 2017 season. In the bullpen, Melancon has (mostly) done the job this season, Tony Watson has been below average by his standards but isn’t to blame, Luebke just came back from injury, Jared Hughes is starting to figure things out and is coming back from injury, Ryan Vogelsong hasn’t played enough to really see how he’s pitching and Neftali Feliz has overcome a small rough patch to fill his role on the team.
That means it falls on one person: Caminero.
Obviously, the bullpen’s struggles aren’t entirely Caminero’s fault. That would be crazy talk. But his in-game performance this season leaves a lot to be desired.
Caminero can come into a game and throw a 98 mile-per-hour fastball for a strike — but it seems like, with every pitch, hitters know what he is throwing and where in the zone it will be. He isn’t fooling anyone (hitters came into Wednesday night batting .311 against him.)
Ideally, this is where you send Caminero down to Triple-A Indianapolis, but he’s out of options. So manager Clint Hurdle needs to decide if Caminero has anything more to offer and whether the problem is physical or mental. Hurdle likes to show his guys loyalty, and he told DK Pittsburgh Sports that he wants to wait things out, even though he conceded Caminero might be overthinking things.
But when you’re in a division race against a team performing in record fashion (the Chicago Cubs), waiting isn’t an option that will benefit the Pirates.
Based on his work this season, it looks like Caminero has given all he can to the Pirates.
It’s time to move on.
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