NEW YORK -- Pirates brass envisions hard-throwing Justin Wilson as an ideal matchup left-hander. Problem is, every time his conversion to the bullpen was brought up, Wilson went out and pitched a no-hitter. A slight exaggeration, of course. But the 25-year-old Californian did pitch most of two no-hitters for Indianapolis this season, part of his 9-6 record at Triple-A, to put off his transition to the bullpen. "We felt compelled to flip him [to relief] about halfway through the season, and about the time of that conversation he threw a no-hitter. So we kinda backed away a little bit," said manager Clint Hurdle.
Wilson thus wound up starting 25 of his 29 appearances for Indianapolis, but the Bucs still like the idea of his 95-mph fastball busting some of the league's toughest left-handed hitters. Wilson's stuff plays differently than that of the only lefty to have spent the entire season in the Pittsburgh bullpen; Tony Watson's stuff is equally, sometimes even more, effective against right-handed batters. "Justin shows you flashes of stuff to be a quality Major League starter. If not, he could be a left-handed reliever who throws really hard," general manager Neal Huntington had said midseason. Wilson's late-season apprenticeship in that role has turned heads, not changed minds. In six very limited outings, he has struck out five in 3 1/3 innings. Wilson has been predominantly a starter during four years in the Minors, but the Pirates have had good recent luck converting Minor League starters to relief. Jared Hughes started almost exclusively for five years until taking up relief work in Indianapolis last year, and this season has been one of the Majors' top rookies. "The one thing I've talked to [Wilson] about is being super aggressive, just going out there and not holding anything back," Hughes said. "You want to go out there and give it your best stuff; there's no reason to pace yourself. He's fitting in pretty well. He seems to know what to do."