Brown pitching his way into 'pen plans

BRADENTON, Fla. -- As the Pirates entered Spring Training tasked with rebuilding their bullpen behind Jason Grilli, Jared Hughes and Tony Watson, they were very comfortable with the long list of credible candidates.

Brooks Brown was not one of them. But the 27-year-old right-hander may be forcing himself not only into the line, but to the head of it. He added to his impressive spring on Sunday by working a perfect ninth to save the Bucs' 8-6 victory over the Astros.

Saves in exhibition games could be the ultimate meaningless stat, since Minor Leaguers flood lineups by the end of games. Still, Brown has two saves in the Pirates' three wins, and has allowed one run while striking out five in 4 2/3 innings in his team-leading four appearances.

All provide good evidence why the Pirates signed the seven-year Minor Leaguer last November. Brown has gone 43-59, with an ERA of 4.23, in 165 games (131 starts) between the Arizona and Detroit organizations.

"We signed him for a reason," manager Clint Hurdle said, "and he is showing reasons why our guys who saw him liked him. He keeps his fastball down and it has good life, and throws a breaking ball that can be a swing-and-miss pitch. He has shown up very well so far."

Brown, a first-round pick by the D-backs in 2006, has spent most of his career at the Double-A level. In 2012, he went 4-4 with a 4.90 ERA for the Tigers' Triple-A Toledo club, splitting his time between the bullpen and the rotation.