Two summers ago, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle summoned a rookie left-hander from the bullpen. Jose Veras had blown a 1-0 lead, and Hurdle needed the left-hander to keep the score tied against the fifth and sixth hitters of the Arizona Diamondbacks order.

That left-hander, Tony Watson, struck out right-hander Chris Young -- the first batter he faced in his major league career -- and Juan Miranda to end the inning. Andrew McCutchen eventually won the game with a walk-off home run in the 12th inning.

Now Watson is one of the members of the bullpen tasked with pitching in the late innings and preserving leads for closer Jason Grilli. Right-handers Mark Melancon and Jared Hughes, along with Watson, will pitch the seventh and eighth inning.

"When I first got here a couple years ago, one of the first things I learned was that it's a closer's bullpen," Watson said. "To have everybody be a part of it is exciting. It doesn't matter what inning it is. We're trying to go out there and protect a lead."

Monday, the bullpen pitched 3 1/3 scoreless innings. Justin Wilson, Hughes and Melancon combined to strike out five without allowing a hit or a walk.

Last season, the Pirates bullpen was one of the best in baseball in the first half. The unit had a 2.63 ERA and a .653 opponent on-base-plus-slugging percentage. Hurdle made efforts to preserve the bullpen, avoiding using pitchers three days in a row and tracking innings pitched and appearances made, but the unit regressed. The second-half ERA jumped to 4.15 and the OPS increased to .700.

Chance played a role in the bullpen's first-half success. The unit had a .262 batting average against on balls in play the first half of the season.