ATLANTA -- Some of the best managers in recent baseball history have been renowned for riding hot relief arms into exhaustion. Clint Hurdle, who has started the 2012 season with a bullpen full of hot arms, is committed to not falling into that trap.
The Pirates manager's No. 1 commandment, which he doesn't mind sharing even though it might give a slight tactical advantage to the opposition on certain days: Thou shalt not pitch three consecutive days. That workload, and even more, isn't rare for relievers.
"Unless you're talking about two outings of 15 pitches, no, I don't plan on using anyone three straight," Hurdle said. "Based on the history in third outings last year, the ERA, the command and the control wasn't beneficial. Sometimes, you have to re-think things. You pitch three days in a row, you're away that third day."
Much of Hurdle's conclusion is based on his and pitching coach Ray Searage's observations, because the stark numbers do not mount a compelling argument against three-peats.
The Bucs' five busiest relievers last season -- Joel Hanrahan, Chris Resop, Jose Veras, Daniel McCutchen and Tony Watson -- pitched on a third straight day a total of 18 times, compiling an ERA of 3.78 in those 16 2/3 innings.
But Hanrahan, for instance, had a 4.91 ERA in a small sample size of five third-day outings, compared to his overall ERA of 1.83.
The Pirates' most efficient third-game reliever in 2011 was the versatile right-hander not on the current staff: McCutchen allowed one run in four appearances, three of them two-inning stints.
The Bucs entered Monday night's game in Atlanta with the National League's fourth-best bullpen ERA (3.00) and fifth-lowest opponents; batting average (.223).