Neal Huntington On Cole’s Health, Watson’s Role & Polanco’s Relief

PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – Pirates General Manager Neal Huntington joined “The Fan Morning Show” on Wednesday to discuss a variety of topics related to the team, which has started the 2016 season with two big wins over the Cardinals.

Huntington provided an update on Gerrit Cole, saying he is back to 100 percent and ready to make his season debut.

“Gerrit had an outstanding last outing in Florida a week [before he’s due to debut],” Huntington said. “He threw the ball as well as he’s thrown it all spring. Again, it’s against minor leaguers, but it doesn’t really matter with Gerrit. He was locating his fastball. Both breaking balls were very sharp. The changeup was effective. He felt like he could repeat his delivery, and he did. He got built up to just about 100 pitches, and he’ll be ready to go as if he’s a normal starter coming out of Spring Training.”

Huntington recently said that he has no doubts that Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage will be here for the long haul. He believes that Searage isn’t the only one with designs on sticking around.

“Our goal is to have Ray Searage be the pitching coach here a long time,” Huntington said. “Just like Clint [Hurdle]’s goal is to be the manager (and) my goal is to be the general manager here for a long time. Ray loves it here. He understands that there’s a great group that helps him be tremendous, and it’s not always easy to go somewhere else and start over again. We have no concerns that Ray’s headed anywhere any time soon.”

To Huntington’s surprise, many free agent pitchers recognize that Searage works magic. However, there are still some non-believers out there.

“There are guys that fully recognize (that),” Huntington said. “Then, there are other guys that still don’t quite recognize that, which leaves me scratching my head.”

When asked about traditional eighth-inning reliever Tony Watson making a couple of appearances in the seventh inning, Huntington explained that the Pirates are aiming to use Watson when they need him most.

“I think, with the bullpen, you’ll see Clint [Hurdle] be opportunistic in his use of Watty,” Huntington said. “It’s not necessarily going to be left hand-related only…[Hurdle] may go to Watty in the seventh inning because it’s the middle of the lineup, and it’s just an opportunistic utilization of the best reliever we have out there that’s not our closer, and Clint’s been very open to that…We like Neftali Feliz, we like [Arquimedes] Caminero, but there’s a big separation given what Watson’s done.”

Finally, Huntington said that he believes Gregory Polanco will benefit from the comfort that comes with having a long-term contract in place, just as Andrew McCutchen and Starling Marte did when they got their extensions.

“They were able to just relax,” Huntington said. “They weren’t pressing. They weren’t trying to earn the highest possible dollars in arbitration. They weren’t worried about getting sent down. They weren’t worried about going 0-for-8 because they may not be in the lineup the next day.”

“Obviously, we’ve made a huge commitment to Gregory. He’s made a huge commitment to us…even just in talking with Gregory, you see the sense of relief. He’s excited to go play.”

The interview can be heard here:

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