WASHINGTON (AP) Struggling Pittsburgh Pirates left-hander Jonathon Niese will try to get on track in the bullpen after being removed from the starting rotation.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle announced the decision to demote Niese to the bullpen on Friday before the team opened a three-game series at the Washington Nationals. Niese is 7-6 with a 5.13 ERA in 18 starts this season after Pittsburgh acquired him from the New York Mets for second baseman Neil Walker.
''We felt at this time to get him unplugged, to get a different look might help him moving forward,'' Hurdle said. ''We told him this wasn't a banishment out of the rotation for good. We're just unplugging him, putting him in the bullpen for right now, see where that can take us.''
Niese has allowed 20 home runs, struck out 71 and walked 36 in 101 2/3 innings. The groundball pitcher allowed 20 home runs all last season and is two away from tying a career high.
The 29-year-old said he understood the decision but didn't expect it.
''I'd rather start obviously. It's where my heart's at,'' Niese said. ''I knew the rotation was getting pretty crowded. ... I knew something was going to happen. I was certainly hoping it wasn't me to get bumped. It is what it is. I understand the results weren't there in the first half.''
During a radio appearance Friday morning, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said in hindsight that taking two ''fringe'' prospects from the Mets might have been a better return for Walker than Niese, who has not worked out as planned.
''Given the thinness of the starting pitching market, given the dollars that we had available, we felt that that was our best return and it has not played out that way and that's a challenge,'' Huntington said on 93.7 The Fan in Pittsburgh. ''We own that. We accept that.''
Huntington said that based on the Pirates' young pitchers he'd ''potentially be interested'' in trading a veteran, which could mean Niese, fellow lefty Jeff Locke or both.
One of those young pitchers is ready to return as Gerrit Cole will be active off the disabled list to start Saturday. Cole had been out with a strained right triceps muscle.
The 25-year-old righty doesn't know if there will be any limitations on him in his first start back.
''I'm just excited to not sit on the sidelines all of the time,'' Cole said. ''I'm sure they'll take it inning by inning. See how the game is unfolding.''
Chad Kuhl is lined up to pitch Sunday, and Huntington said top prospect Jameson Taillon could get another start during next week's series against the Milwaukee Brewers.