WASHINGTON (AP) The Pittsburgh Pirates have moved struggling left-hander Jonathon Niese to the bullpen.

Manager Clint Hurdle announced the decision 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.

Niese said he understood the move but didn't expect it. Niese has allowed 20 home runs, struck out 71 and walked 36 in 101 2/3 innings.

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The Pirates acquired the 29-year-old from the New York Mets in the offseason in exchange for second baseman Neil Walker.

Righty Gerrit Cole will be activated off the 15-day disabled list to start Saturday. Cole had been out with a strained right triceps muscle.

Chad Kuhl is lined up to start Sunday.