Hughes producing in Pirates' excellent 'pen

Hughes producing in Pirates' excellent 'pen

Hughes producing in Pirates' excellent 'pen
PITTSBURGH -- Storylines in the Bucs bullpen are breaking out like wild flowers in a field after a rainstorm. That will happen when you've got the National League's stingiest -- 2.34 ERA into Saturday night's game -- relief corps.

There's Jason Grilli, blowing people away like a Kerry Wood/Nolan Ryan mash-up. There are Juan Cruz and Brad Lincoln, who allow about a run for every new moon. And Tony Watson, around whom inherited runners are like statues.

So it's easy to overlook someone like Jared Hughes, the rookie right-hander who has worked to a 1.16 ERA in 17 games under a variety of circumstances.

Not bad for a 26-year-old who "came into camp with an outside chance," said manager Clint Hurdle, recalling the early days of Spring Training.

"All he did was continue taking the ball and get outs all Spring Training. And he's continued at this level, in a bunch of different roles," Hurdle said.

Hughes' mound presence probably caught Hurdle's attention before his mound repertoire did. The 6-foot-7, 245 pounder is a stone-faced, eyes-boring competitor with the stuff to match.

The chance to get over the first-time jitters last season, when Hughes was a September callup, helped him get settled in this spring.

"You don't really know how to tackle it until you get here. Then you tell yourself, 'You know what? It's the same game, the same field.' The player pool is better and the stadiums are bigger, but otherwise let's just go play," Hurdle said. "He prepares extremely hard, and has been very focused. And he loves to compete."

Hughes' competitiveness figures to come out next weekend, when the Pirates make their first visit to Milwaukee. Hughes' career line is impressive enough -- an ERA of 2.10 for his first 29 appearances. But taking out his mistreatment by the Brewers in his final two 2011 appearances (four runs in one inning) leaves a 1.08 ERA for the other 27 games.