Watson displaying closer makeup in bullpen

Watson displaying closer makeup in bullpen

PITTSBURGH -- The Bucs' next closer? It could very well be Tony Watson.

Oh, not Wednesday night, nor even this month or this season. Manager Clint Hurdle expressed unfailing confidence in Jason Grilli the day after he'd served up a decisive home run to Todd Frazier.

As the manager pointed out, Grilli did nothing more than cross a closer's slim margin of error.

"He got one pitch in a bad zone that got covered. There isn't a heightened uneasiness for me, by any means," Hurdle said.

So this isn't about current events. But the Pirates are likely to need a new closer next season. At 37, Grilli is in the second of a two-year contract. Most expect the job to fall to Mark Melancon, who has past closing experience and won't turn 30 until Opening Day 2015.

In a subtle way, Hurdle already seems to be stumping for Watson, which would enable him to keep Melancon in his uncanny eighth-inning role (1.19 ERA the 53 times he has worked that inning for the Bucs).

"He's not a left-on-left guy," Hurdle said of Watson, separating him from the prototypical matchup southpaw. "He's aggressive, self-confident, fields his position and controls the running game."

Watson has not allowed an earned run since April 22, a stretch of 22 games spanning two months. He began this season with a career strikeout rate of 7.8 every nine innings, but with his changeup becoming a weapon, he had 41 whiffs in 32 innings entering Wednesday. Watson is holding right-handed hitters to an average of .195.

"He has continued to emerge as one of the reigning relievers," Hurdle said.

Watson is a top candidate for a spot in the National League's All-Star bullpen. Hurdle, one of Mike Matheny's All-Star coaches, will lobby for him.

Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.