PITTSBURGH -- In the Pirates' hard-fought 4-1 victory over the Tigers on Friday night, 34 Detroit batters faced five Pittsburgh pitchers. But left-hander Tony Watson was the only one of the five who had to face the potential tying run. And it was the only man he faced: Austin Jackson, with two outs and two on in the seventh inning of a game the Pirates led by three runs. Watson struck out Jackson to defuse the threat, then the Pirates' very own MacGyver called it a night.
"There you go," said Watson, acknowledging how that situation summarized his high-wire role in the Pirates' bullpen. "I didn't even think about that, but it seems like I'm always in a situation where the game can turn either way. "So you've always got to be on your game, attack the hitter and get ahead. [Jackson] can easily hook one down the line, and it's a tie game." Until Doug Slaten's promotion from Indianapolis three weeks ago, Watson had been the only left-hander in manager Clint Hurdle's bullpen. Watson has a unique role, but it has little to do with matching up against key left-handed batters, since he actually has been more effective against righty (.143 opponents average) than same-side (.250) batters. Rather, Watson has been the primary stopper. Hurdle otherwise prefers to have relievers start innings, with a clean slate. Watson, however, is the one repeatedly asked to douse embers before they become fires. In his 31 appearances, Watson has inherited 33 runners. All of Pittsburgh's other relievers have inherited a combined total of 46. Watson has stranded 27 of the 33. "I don't want to let down our guys," Watson said. "You've got starters who go deep into games and leave with some traffic, I want them to be able to move away from their starts on a good note."