MILWAUKEE -- With Jason Grilli still working his way back from injury, every Pittsburgh reliever has seen an increase in high-leverage opportunities. Quietly, left-hander Tony Watson has maintained his place as one of the best in the middle-relief business.
Entering the week, Watson was 3-0 with seven holds, near the top of the league leaderboard in the latter category, and had posted a 1.59 ERA over 17 innings in 2014. Though that amounted to a small sample, Watson's 23 strikeouts and 1.70 ground ball-to-fly ball ratio were much higher than career norms. He owns a career 0.9 GO/FO ratio and has punched out 8.2 batters per nine innings over his career, with a 12.2 mark in that department this time.
"I didn't switch anything up from previous years," Watson said. "It's just, 'Get ahead, stay ahead and try to put them away.' Russ [Martin] was calling great games [before going on the disabled list], having me throwing the slider down more and the changeup. Chris [Stewart] and Tony [Sanchez] are doing the same thing. I think it's just trusting in the pitch and trying to execute pitches. I'm not trying to strike guys out, just trying to get weak contact when I'm ahead of the count, and I'm fortunate to get some swings and misses."
Moreover, he's seeing more and more right-handers. He's never been a situational lefty, but Watson faced lefties in just less than half of his total batters faced two years ago, a volume that dropped to 39.5 percent last year and down to 25.7 percent this season.
"Last night, [fellow lefty Justin] Wilson he came in for the lefty, but Clint [Hurdle, manager] has a lot of trust in us to go out there and get full innings and get both righties and lefties out," Watson said. "I think we've both shown we're capable of doing that. Hopefully, that trust is still there and we can keep going out there and getting outs."
Watson hasn't been scored upon in seven appearances, covering 7 2/3 frames heading into Wednesday.
JR Radcliffe is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.