Chavez showing promise in bullpen
After poor spring showing, reliever off to solid start
PITTSBURGH -- Had big league roster spots been determined by Spring Training performances, there's no question that Jesse Chavez would be pitching out of the bullpen in Triple-A Indianapolis right now.
His 10.40 ERA in 14 spring appearances was bettered by a number of other relievers who were also competing for the final bullpen jobs. Yet it was Chavez who, with just two days remaining in camp, earned the 25th roster spot.
Chavez likely would have been beat out for a big league bullpen job by Evan Meek had some unfortunate circumstances -- a tired shoulder, the stomach flu and bronchitis -- not forced Meek to miss the final two weeks of Grapefruit League play. However, while some viewed Chavez simply as a placeholder until Meek got a few Triple-A appearances under his belt, manager John Russell saw more in the 25-year-old righty.
"Jesse, no doubt, had a tough spring," Russell said. "I just really had a lot of faith in Jesse that he would be able to turn the corner. [We] challenged him that it was time to turn the corner. I think he's taken that really well. I have a lot of faith in what he can become. We really believe in what this kid can do."
Chavez finally put everything together on Wednesday night, pitching two quick scoreless innings. He walked Houston's Geoff Blum after Ramon Vazquez's error in foul territory extended Blum's at-bat to lead off the sixth. Chavez then retired six straight, including two on called third-pitch strikes.
The outing was the third of the season for Chavez, who allowed three hits, two walks and a run in two innings against Cincinnati over the weekend. His two-inning stint saved Russell from having to expose more relievers on Wednesday in a game after starter Ross Ohlendorf lasted only five innings.
Furthermore, there was a sense that the young power arm, whose fastball consistently hits 94-97 mph, finally looked more at ease on Wednesday.
"You don't see those jitters anymore," Russell said. "He still has a tendency to get a little vamped up, but not quite as much as he did last year."
Chavez made his Major League debut last season, going 0-1 with a 6.60 ERA in 15 appearances with Pittsburgh.
It remains to be seen if Chavez's modest success so far this season will earn him a longer stay than maybe had been previously anticipated, especially with Meek waiting in the wings. Meek has pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings for Indianapolis so far. He's struck out four and given up one hit and two walks.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.