PITTSBURGH -- The desk phone rang in manager Clint Hurdle's office, he answered and politely told the caller, "No, this is not the Humane Society."
Hurdle was being serious. Apparently, he gets frequent mistaken calls through crossed wires for the Humane Society. Or, maybe it's not a mistake at all: Maybe the call is from the Humane Society, to compliment him for his use of relief pitchers.
The sidebar of the Pirates' terrific bullpen -- National League-best 2.30 ERA, second lowest in the Majors -- is Hurdle's commitment to not overwork anyone. That's an agenda of three nos: Pitching three consecutive days, warming up without getting into the game, 80 total appearances.
"I'm tied to the arm as well as to the human being," Hurdle said. "You see relievers max out and a year or two down the road, you never hear from them again. 'Well, if I get 80 games out of this guy and we win X amount of games, and he doesn't pitch after that, so be it.' There's got to be balance. You look at the long haul.
"I've managed against situations where you'll see guys up [in the bullpen] three straight innings and never get in the game. If you get hot three times and [do] not pitch, to me that counts as a game. Next day, you're down. You've got to be mindful of that wear and tear on the arm."
Jason Grilli, the most veteran of the Pirates relievers, said warming up without ever making it through the bullpen gate is just as good as an outing. "They can be pretty taxing on a relief pitcher. It's something you have to monitor. If you don't manage your bullpen effectively, you can burn out guys pretty quick and they won't have anything left at the end."
Hurdle shuttled four different relievers into 70-plus games last season, his first with the Pirates, and felt he paid a price with their overall diminished effectiveness down the stretch. Hence, his commitment to be more conservative -- and humane -- in how they are deployed.