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Pirates pick Hanrahan over Meek as closer

Pirates pick Hanrahan over Meek as closer

Pirates pick Hanrahan over Meek as closer
BRADENTON, Fla. -- The Pirates will begin this season with Joel Hanrahan as their closer, manager Clint Hurdle announced after workouts on Wednesday.

The announcement comes after a winter of speculation as to whether the job would be handed to Hanrahan or Evan Meek. Both right-handers saved a handful of games for the club late last season, but the Pirates vowed to avoid making the closer's role up for grabs in a Spring Training competition.

Hurdle informed both pitchers of the decision on Tuesday afternoon.

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"We had a lot of internal discussion," Hurdle said. "I don't think there was a bad choice. But based on some experience that Joel has had in the past, just for the makeup of our ballclub, the continuity that was shown late last season with them piggybacking each other, that's the way we're going to start the season."

Meek, Hurdle explained further, will be the team's primary eighth-inning setup man. He will also be the first choice to step in and close games in case Hanrahan is unavailable on any given night.

"In a perfect world, obviously, I would love to [close]," Meek said. "But more power to him. He's going to do a great job, and he's the right guy to be there.

"We both knew that it was going to be between us. They knew that they had two guys who could take care of that. We're going to have a real strong back end of that bullpen. Whatever role I have, it's going to be getting him that ball."

For Hanrahan, this is a second chance to establish himself as a big league closer. He was named the Nationals' closer in July 2008 after Washington traded Jon Rauch to Arizona. Hanrahan went 9-for-12 in save opportunities to end that year, but he struggled in the role early in the '09 season.

By June 20, Hanrahan had already lost three games and blown five saves. His ERA had ballooned to over seven by the time the Pirates acquired the right-hander a few days later. However, the growth that Hanrahan has shown and the success that he has had since changing organizations leaves him confident that he won't fall back into a similar ninth-inning funk.

"I think I'm a different person now," Hanrahan said. "I feel like I have matured on and off the field. I think that's going to help. My mindset has changed a little bit, to where I'm going to go out there and have fun."

After posting a 1.72 ERA in 33 games with the Pirates in 2009, Hanrahan served as the team's primary setup man for closer Octavio Dotel last season. Hanrahan finished the year with a 3.62 ERA in 69 2/3 innings, and he became the first Bucs reliever in 26 years to strike out 100 batters in a season. His 72 appearances were also a career high.

Hanrahan saved six games in nine opportunities after Dotel left at the July 31 non-waiver Trade Deadline.

"I just want to be one of the 25 guys helping us win," Hanrahan said. "Those last three outs are the most important outs in the game. You have to go out there with the mindset that you have three outs to get, and let's get it done and go home. I'm going to try and take the same approach that I had in the eighth and seventh inning and take that out there."

Hanrahan will take some Slipknot out there with him, too, promising that one of the heavy metal band's songs will serve as his entrance music from the PNC Park bullpen. The specific song choice remains to be determined.

As for Meek, he slots into the less glamorous of the two roles, though hardly a less critical one. Meek was used primarily as the Pirates' seventh-inning setup man early last season, and he had enough success in the role to be named to the 2010 National League All-Star team.

He finished the year ranked among the top seven NL relievers in ERA (2.14) and innings pitched (80).

"We both agree that without the eighth inning, we don't get to the ninth inning," Meek said. "A lot of times when you go in in the seventh or the eighth, you're going to be facing the heart of the lineup. The job is just as important."

While conceding that Meek was disappointed with the team's decision, Hurdle lauded the right-hander's ability to take the news professionally.

"They both have the desire to do the best thing for the team," Hurdle said. "Individually, they're very complimentary of each other. It was never one against another. They're going to do what's best for the ballclub."

Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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