PITTSBURGH -- Could the Pirates’ best starter by mid-September be a player acquired for cash who averages 91 mph on his fastball and hasn’t gone more than five innings?
Peters navigated five scoreless innings against a lineup that, while in a bit of a skid recently, has pummeled the Bucs (2-9 vs. Cincinnati in the season series) repeatedly this season. He drew a career-high 10 swings and misses on his changeup against a right-handed-heavy lineup, a pitch that manager Derek Shelton called “probably the best changeup we’ve seen him have since we acquired him.”
In part, it spoke to the execution of the four-seam fastball inside to righties that Peters throws the changeup off. A couple of starts ago, the fastball had a bit more cut to it. Peters knows the pitch will cut from time to time, but Tuesday showed what happens when it stays true.
“Today, it was glove-side,” Peters said. “It was pretty straight and in on those righties’ hands. It was a presentable pitch.”
The Pirates are scuffling in the pitcher health department right now, with starters Steven Brault and JT Brubaker on the injured list, as well as de facto closer David Bednar. It appeared the latter of those injured pitchers affected the decision-making in a 6-0 game after Peters exited, as Nick Mears was left in to face all nine batters in a four-run sixth inning for the Reds.
But Shelton said it was more about the stuff he saw from Mears and wanting to see if he could get out of a jam created by a leadoff walk and some weakly hit or well-placed singles.
“I didn’t think he threw the ball badly at all,” Shelton said. “Now, his line is not going to show that, but in terms of execution of pitches, velocity and how his pitches acted, he threw the ball well.”
Mears relieved Peters with the starter at 80 pitches. That may not seem like a large pitch total, but Peters hadn’t reached 80 pitches in his five previous starts with the Bucs. The left-hander was also making his second start off the injured list.
In the long run, that’s what matters to the Pirates: Health. If the club can get five-inning contributions from young arms or new acquisitions like Peters to close out the season, it will help the Bucs get into the offseason as healthy as possible. If he gets extended, they aren’t afraid to pull him.
On Tuesday, it was more the case of a long fifth inning for the Pirates’ offense, which scored three of the club’s six runs (five earned) off Wade Miley -- who had held Pittsburgh scoreless in 13 innings this season entering the series opener -- in that frame. Shelton didn’t want to send Peters back out for only one or two hitters after sitting, then standing on deck for the final out.
“I think like we’ve talked about: We’re not taking any chances with health,” Shelton said. “That’s what went into it.”
As far as Peters’ situation specifically heading into an offseason with a lot of uncertainty, that’s to be determined. The Pirates acquired him thinking he had a chance to improve the rotation.
So far, Peters is making a case to stick around in 2022 as a starting pitcher for the Bucs, but ultimately, he’s focused on his game and not a future he can’t control.
“That's for them to decide,” Peters said. “I know that I'm ready to take the ball whenever I’m asked, and I'm going to go out there and compete, and go after guys. And if that's for three innings or six innings, you're going to get everything I got.”