PITTSBURGH – The great Terry Mulholland once labeled himself as a “utility pitcher.”
It was the pride of Uniontown and Laurel Highlands High School’s way of saying he was willing to pitch in any situation during a 20-year big-league career that included a stint with the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2001.
Mulholland started and pitched long relief, middle relief, set-up relief and even took a few turns as a closer. If the roles had been invented back in his day, Mulholland also would have likely served as an opener and a bulk-inning reliever, too.
Thomas Hatch could also be considered a utility pitcher. The right-hander could fill a multitude of roles for the Pirates.
Hatch joined the Pirates on Tuesday, two days after being claimed off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays. He did not appear in an 8-6 loss to the Atlanta Braves at PNC Park, but Hatch might get a start Saturday night when the Pirates host the Cincinnati Reds.
However, those plans could change if the Pirates need to use Hatch out of the bullpen in their three games between now and then. The personable 29-year-old says he is ready for whatever Pirates manager Derek Shelton needs from him.
“It’s exciting that there’s a lot of opportunity,” Hatch said. “With the Blue Jays, it was a little bit more predictable when I would be in the game. So, it’s exciting, a little bit more adrenaline for it to be unpredictable. Phone rings, be ready. I’m excited for that.”
All six of Hatch’s appearances for the Blue Jays this season were in relief, and he had no record and a 4.26 ERA. He was 4-2 with a 4.40 ERA for Triple-A Buffalo in 30 games, including three starts.
Hatch spent parts of the last four years with the Blue Jays, making his major-league debut during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. He made four starts and 23 relief appearances while compiling a 5.40 ERA.
“Well, I think the interest is he’s been a starter in the minor leagues and had some success,” Shelton said of why the Pirates claimed Hatch. “We like the changeup, we like the breaking ball. I think those are the things that stood out the most. We just got to figure out what we’re going to do with him and then move from there.”
The Chicago Cubs selected Hatch in the third round of the 2016 draft from Oklahoma State, where he majored in finance. Hatch made it as high as Double-A before being traded to the Blue Jays in a 2019 deal that netted the Cubs reliever David Phelps.
A year later, Hatch was in the major leagues. He is hopeful of history repeating itself while going through the whirlwind of trying to learn a new organization on the fly this week.
“Some of the biggest challenges are just not even baseball-related,” Hatch said of switching the teams. “The mound’s still 60 feet, six inches. But then you’ve got to come in and meet tons of staff and dozens of new teammates. Sometimes that’s the challenge more than other things.
“But last time that happened to me it was good, it was a breath of fresh air – a new situation, a new team, an exciting team. So, I’m excited.”
The Pirates’ pitching staff is depleted because of injuries and ineffectiveness. The opportunity is there for Hatch to become a utility pitcher – or maybe more.