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Watson more than a lefty specialist for Pirates

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PITTSBURGH -- The National League's All-Star pitching staff will be announced Sunday on the Taco Bell All-Star Selection Show at 7 p.m. ET on ESPN, and if his name is included, Tony Watson will become the first left-handed reliever in Pirates history so honored.

"Is that right?" Watson said, with wide eyes. "Wow, that would be really special."

That pretty well describes the 29-year-old Iowan.

Although his manager, Clint Hurdle, prefers the description "power tool."

"That's what he has become on the mound," Hurdle said. "We've got a special guy."

Think left-hander, and the knee-jerk reaction invariably is matchup reliever. Watson shatters that mold, with splits that document he is even tougher on right-handed hitters than on lefties. That's why he likely will be a closer in the future.

Watson's matured changeup often is credited with his success against right-handers, who this season are hitting him at a .210 clip, compared to .216 by lefties.

"That's become a big pitch for him," Hurdle said.

By setting up his harder pitches, it indeed has turned Watson into a strikeout pitcher. He has 48 whiffs in 37 2/3 innings this season, compared to 54 in 71 2/3 last season.

However, that explanation for Watson's overall shackling of right-handed hitters doesn't mesh with his track record. He has always chewed them up (.192 in 2013 and .201 lifetime). The stuff plays, but the ice in Watson's veins has always played better.

Regard Watson's appearance on June 22 in Chicago. He came on in the eighth to protect a 2-1 lead over the Cubs. Back-to-back singles to lead off the inning and a sacrifice bunt placed the lead run within 180 feet of home. The place was going bonkers around him.

Watson silenced Wrigley Field with strikeouts of, yes, right-handed pinch-hitters Welington Castillo and Justin Ruggiano.

As dramatic as it was, it was also typical: Watson has allowed an earned run in four of 59 appearances since last Aug. 4, with a 0.62 ERA and a 0.88 WHIP over that stretch.

Those are some starry numbers.

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.

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