SAN DIEGO -- The Pirates expected the back end of their bullpen to be one of the team's strengths in 2011. So far, success has not been limited to the team's late-inning relievers.
Somewhat unexpectedly, the Pirates' bullpen turned out to be arguably the brightest spot in the first month of the season. One year after posting a 4.57 ERA (ranking 28th out of 30 teams), the 'pen entered Monday boasting a 2.09 mark -- that's the lowest of any club in the Major Leagues.
"I'm seeing a bunch of guys with a lot of confidence who are throwing a lot of strikes," said veteran lefty reliever Joe Beimel. "We feel if we come in with a lead, we're going to keep it. If we come in, our job is just to keep a game close. We've been able to do that for a while."
Joel Hanrahan has not blown a save in eight opportunities, but he is hardly the only one contributing. Chris Resop has allowed just one hit in his past eight outings. Jose Veras has been scored upon just twice in 12 games.
Beimel has made six scoreless appearances since his first outing, and Daniel McCutchen, who was called up from Triple-A on April 9, has not allowed a run.
"They are prepared, number one," said pitching coach Ray Searage. "They stay sharp. [Manager] Clint [Hurdle] has done a great job in not abusing them. It's so early in the season, but they're well-prepared and they're professionals. They know how to do their job and how to take care of their job."
The constantly changing makeup of the Pirates' bullpen was one reason why there were so many questions heading into the season. Not a single member of Pittsburgh's current relief corps was in the team's 2010 Opening Day bullpen.
McCutchen was on the team, but he began as a member of the starting rotation. Hanrahan started last season on the disabled list. Michael Crotta and Daniel Moskos were pitching in the Minors, while the rest of the group -- Beimel, Veras and Resop -- were not yet members of the organization.