INDIANAPOLIS - Position player battles throughout spring training create buzz as the clock ticks toward Opening Day, and Pittsburgh's battle for the final one or two bullpen openings is no exception. With a plethora of pitchers in camp as non-roster invitees and relief prospects rising in the system, the domino effect from Pittsburgh's final roster decisions regarding its bullpen will ultimately affect the makeup of Indy's 'pen. Relief pitchers who could open the season in the Circle City are listed below:
Montana DuRapau: The 26-year-old had an abbreviated 2018 campaign after serving a 50-game suspension at the start of the season. When he was reinstated in late May, he recorded two saves and a 2.89 ERA (3er/9.1ip) in eight appearances with Double-A Altoona, upping his all-time saves record with the Curve to 38. His second go-round in Indianapolis didn't go as well as the first, as he posted a 6.33 ERA (15er/21.1ip) in 11 outings. DuRapau will look to put 2018 in the past and regain his 2017 form that saw him tally 15 saves and a solid 2.04 ERA (12er/53.0ip) between Double- and Triple-A.
Michael Feliz: Acquired by the Pirates from the Astros in the Gerrit Cole trade on Jan. 13, 2018, Feliz's first year in Pittsburgh's organization was a tale of two halves. He started strong out of the gate, recording a 0.90 ERA (2er/20.0ip), nine holds and .181 average against from April 1-May 20 in the big leagues. Over his next 25 appearances out of the Pirates' bullpen, he registered a 7.81 ERA (24er/27.2ip) and opponents hit .292 off him. The mixed results eventually led him to Indy, where he made nine appearances. The righty is one of roughly eight pitchers competing for two openings in Pittsburgh's bullpen.
Geoff Hartlieb: Invited to big league camp for the first time in his career, Hartlieb is on track to make his Triple-A debut this year, as well. Hartlieb, 25, spent the entire 2018 season with Altoona and went 8-2 with 10 saves and a 3.24 ERA (21er/58.1ip) while striking out 8.6 batters per 9.0 innings pitched. He was then one of six Pirates prospects sent to the Arizona Fall League.
Jesus Liranzo: The Pirates claimed the 23-year-old Liranzo off waivers from the Dodgers last April. Despite walking 5.4 batters per 9.0 innings (34bb/57.0ip) between Altoona and Indy, the Pirates kept him on the 40-man roster due to his triple-digits heater and swing-and-miss stuff; he struck out 65 batters last year and held opponents to a meager .189 average. If the Dominican can improve his command, he could be an asset for the Pirates in 2019.
Brandon Maurer: With opt-out clauses built into his contract and causing a bit of the unknown, Maurer may end up in Pittsburgh, Indianapolis or neither at all. The 28-year-old is trying to find his 2015 form, a year in which he logged 53 appearances and had a 3.00 ERA (17er/51.0ip) out of San Diego's bullpen. Since 2016 he has recorded 36 saves with a 5.89 ERA (105er/160.1ip) at the game's highest level. He has made 289 career appearances (21 starts) in the majors since debuting in 2013.
Dovydas Neverauskas: A familiar face in Indianapolis might mirror his routine from the previous two campaigns - shuttling between Indy and Pittsburgh whenever the Pirates need help in their 'pen. Neverauskas first joined the Tribe in 2016 and became the first born-and-raised Lithuanian to play Major League Baseball in April 2017. He's dominated with Indy in the International League over the last three seasons, compiling 21 saves, a 2.91 ERA (41er/126.2ip) and 9.1 strikeouts per 9.0 innings in 99 outings. He has made an additional 49 relief appearances with Pittsburgh, where he owns a near 2.5:1 strikeout-to-walk ratio (44k, 18bb).
Others to consider: Jake Barrett, Vicente Campos, Rookie Davis, Matt Eckelman, Scooter Hightower, Tate Scioneaux, Logan Sendelbach
Francisco Liriano: Another veteran with opt-out clauses in his minor league contract is Liriano, who has 350 games (300 starts) to his name at the highest level. Once a prized prospect and eventual starter with Minnesota, Liriano has since bounced to the White Sox (2012), Pirates (2013-16), Blue Jays (2016-17), Astros (2017) and Tigers (2018). He made four Triple-A starts with Indy between the 2013 and '14 seasons and later won a World Series Championship pitching out of Houston's bullpen. After making 26 starts for Detroit last year, the Pirates are using Liriano strictly out of the 'pen this spring.
Tyler Lyons: With 147 major league games (20 starts) to his ledger in St. Louis (2013-18), Lyons is an experienced relief pitcher who could crack Pittsburgh's Opening Day roster. Prior to signing Lyons and Liriano this offseason, the Pirates had just two in-house lefties to consider for their 25-man roster: closer Felipe Vazquez and swingman Steven Brault. The latter has one option year remaining, however, giving Lyons an inside track on his fellow southpaw competition. His best season came just two years ago with St. Louis, where he went 4-1 with three saves and a 2.83 ERA (17er/54.0ip). He has held left-handed batters to a .203 average and .320 slugging percentage in the majors over the course of his career.
Nik Turley: A former Yankees, Giants, Red Sox and Twins farmhand, the 29-year-old Turley served an 80-game suspension and never made an appearance in 2018. Now without an invite to major league camp, Turley will have to reestablish himself in the minors before a big-league opportunity presents itself. The potential for dominance is real. He logged a 2.05 ERA (21er/92.0ip) and 124 punchouts in 23 games (13 starts) between Double-A Chattanooga and Triple-A Rochester in 2017, eventually leading to his MLB debut with Minnesota.
Others to consider: Elvis Escobar, Sean Keselica, Blake Weiman
This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.