Tuesday, July 12, 2016

No closer in baseball more steady than Pirates' All-Star Melancon

By John Perrotto
July 12, 2016
Mark Melancon pitches in the 9th inning of Sunday's 6-5 loss to the Cubs. (Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire/USA Today Sports)
SAN DIEGO -- Mark Melancon is as consistent as any closer in the major leagues and the reason why isn’t surprising.
“I try to be as consistent as possible with my routine every single day of the season,” the Pirates right-hander said Monday during All-Star Game media day at the San Diego Manchester Hyatt.
“I’m pretty much a type-A personality, so I like to have things a certain way. It just makes me feel more comfortable going to the mound knowing that I’ve done everything I can from a mental and physical standpoint to prepare for the game that day.”
The Pirates acquired Melancon on Dec. 26, 2012 from the Boston Red Sox in a trade and he has gone on to become one of the best relief pitchers in franchise history.
His 127 saves rank fifth on the Pirates’ all-time list behind Roy Face (188), Kent Tekulve (154), Mike Williams (140) and Dave Giusti (133). Furthermore, Melancon’s 1.76 ERA since the start of the 2013 season is tops among all major league relievers with at least 100 innings pitched in that span.
Yet the most impressive stat of all is that Melancon has converted 101 of 108 save opportunities since the beginning of 2014, his first full season as a closer. The 93.5 percent success rate is the best in the big leagues.
“You always feel good when he comes in the game,” Pirates left fielder Starling Marte said. “We know we’re going to win.”
No closer is ever automatic, but Melancon has been close to it this year, converting 27 of 28 save chances while posting a 1.23 ERA in 40 innings, lower than his career best 1.39 ERA in 2013.
Melancon has been rewarded with his third All-Star Game berth in fourth years and second in as many seasons.
“I actually appreciate being here more each time,” said Melancon who will be part of the National League bullpen for Tuesday night’s Midsummer Classic at Petco Park. “You know better what to expect and it makes it easier to appreciate just being part of the whole atmosphere.”
While most closers try to blow away hitters with blazing fastballs that approach triple digits, Melancon’s heater is averaging just 91.7 mph this season. He has thrown it just eight percent of the time.
Instead, he has perfected a cut fastball, which resembles a slider but has a smaller and later break. In 2016, Melancon has used the cutter on exactly two-thirds of his pitches.
“It can be almost impossible to hit,” St. Louis Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter said. “You see it coming and then it just disappears right before it gets to the plate.”
The low-key Melancon never brags about himself. However, he does admit to a sense of satisfaction at being a three-time All-Star in an era where so many pitchers are judged by how well they light up radar guns.
“It makes me feel good that I can do the job without throwing 100 miles per hour,” Melancon said. “I wasn’t blessed with that kind of arm but it’s nice to show there are other ways to be successful.”
That’s about as far as Melancon will ever go in promoting himself. He shows almost no emotion when he nails down a save, and that’s by design.
“I was taught from a very young age to respect the game,” Melancon said. “I have had my ups in my career but I also have had my downs, which humbled me. I never wanted somebody showing me up when I was struggling, so I don’t want to show anybody else up.
“It’s like my mother always tells me -- there are 150 million people living in China who have no idea that you are a major league pitcher.”
Melancon then smiled.
“That always keeps things in perspective,” he said.

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