Spring training | Pirates' Melancon thrives in setup role

jdill@bradenton.comFebruary 22, 2014 

Staff Photographer

Mark Melancon is the Pittsburgh Pirates setup man out of the bullpen. PAUL VIDELA/Bradenton Herald

PAUL VIDELA — pvidela@bradenton.com Buy Photo

BRADENTON -- When Joel Hanrahan was traded to the Boston Red Sox from the Pittsburgh Pirates at the end of 2012, it looked like there was a gaping hole in the bullpen.

But Jason Grilli flourished in the closer's role vacated by Hanrahan's departure, and one of the players included in that deal excelled in the setup job.

That player is Mark Melancon, the right-hander who endured a rough 2012 with the Red Sox, who went 69-93 under then-manager Bobby Valentine.

Melancon posted a 6.20 earned-run average in 41 appearances, but the Colorado native doesn't view his time in New England negatively.

"It was one of the years, you are really appreciative for what I learned and how much I learned," said Melancon, who also has played for the New York Yankees and Houston Astros. "I think the numbers are misleading in a lot of sense, but it was a great year for me to get better."

Last season, Melancon used that knowledge to form a powerful one-two punch with Grilli at the end of games for the Pirates.

Melancon delivered his best year of his five major league seasons.

In 72 appearances, he logged a career-best 1.39 ERA and a 8.75 strikeout-to-walk ratio.

Melancon also tallied 16 saves when Grilli was sidelined with an injury to his forearm in July.

But Melancon's primary role last season was to set up Grilli, and the 26 holds he produced were the fourth-best total in the National League.

The combination was a big reason the Pirates racked up

94 wins and the franchise's first postseason appearance since 1992.

"I pitched really well at the end of 2012, and kind of parlayed that into 2013," Melancon said. "So there was a lot of help from Russell Martin, and I started throwing the cutter more. And the coaches here have been great. They've helped me out a lot."

The help came in some minor mechanical things. Melancon said coaches worked with his posture.

That added up to being named to his first All-Star team.

Pittsburgh pitching coach Ray Searage said Melancon's mindset and tools are what help him transform into a dominant setup man for the Pirates.

"He's got a good curveball," Searage said. "He's got a good cutter. His fastball velocity is up there. He can move the ball on both sides of the plate, and he has a good feel of his job and what it entails."

Now Melancon focused on keeping that exquisite form in 2014. Melancon adopted the same offseason routine, but he also studied different pitch selections in certain counts to prepare for this year.

Another key is the relationship Melancon has with Grilli.

The two have near polar opposite personalities, with Grilli flashing an outgoing one while Melancon is a bit quieter and reserved.

"He entertains me from the second we get to the field until we leave," Melancon said. "It's a lot of time, and he does a good job in that. ... It's been a great stress relief to have Grilli here. Not only in the comedy factor, but experiencewise. He's been around awhile, and he's very knowledgeable and very good at what he does."

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