ST. LOUIS -- Montana DuRapau was warming up in the bullpen for Bethune-Cookman University before his start in the Coral Gables NCAA Baseball Regional at Alex Rodriguez Park on May 30, 2014, when he looked over at Nick Presto, an area scouting supervisor for the Pirates.
“You’re my only shot,” DuRapau said.
While DuRapau threw seven scoreless innings against the University of Miami, Presto quizzed the other scouts in attendance to see if anyone else was interested in the 5-foot-10 right-hander. Nobody was -- nobody except Presto. The Pirates wound up selecting DuRapau in the 32nd round of the 2014 Draft, beginning a journey to the big leagues that ended on Thursday.
“I’m just happy as anything for the kid,” Presto said. “He said he was going to do it, and he did it.”
The Pirates called up DuRapau from Triple-A Indianapolis before Thursday’s series opener at Busch Stadium, and the right-hander made his Major League debut in the Pirates’ 17-4 loss to the Cardinals, allowing one run on three hits with a strikeout in two innings.
The Bucs also promoted right-hander Clay Holmes from Triple-A to provide additional reinforcements for their taxed bullpen at the start of an 11-game road trip.
“Pretty incredible,” DuRapau (pronounced du-RAW-poh) said before his debut. “There’s not much more you can say. It’s a surreal feeling.”
To make room on the 40-man roster for DuRapau, the Pirates designated southpaw Tyler Lyons for assignment. They cleared a spot on their active roster after Wednesday’s 9-6 loss at PNC Park by putting reliever Keone Kela on the 10-day injured list with right shoulder inflammation.
The Pirates bullpen just endured two long days in a series split against Texas, picking up 10 innings after Steven Brault and Nick Kingham made their first starts of the season. They needed additional arms, and nobody in Indianapolis was pitching better than DuRapau. The 27-year-old was off to a terrific start in Triple-A, striking out 18 hitters in 14 1/3 innings while posting a 0.63 ERA and holding opponents to a .111 average.
“He’s been as effective as maybe any pitcher that we’ve brought up in recent memory as far as statistical numbers,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “He has just continued to get outs throughout his Minor League career.”
At first, though, DuRapau was a longshot.
Bethune-Cookman only produced six Major League players before him, and DuRapau wasn’t even the first player the Pirates drafted from the school in 2014. (They selected a big lefty named John Sever in the 20th round.) He doesn’t light up the radar gun, with a fastball that clocks in between 91-94 mph, and he’s not an imposing physical presence.
“He looks like a college student,” Hurdle said. “But he’s done nothing but get outs since he’s worn a baseball uniform.”
Presto recognized it the first time he saw DuRapau pitch, and the Pirates trust their scouts even in an increasingly analytical game. DuRapau threw strikes, attacked hitters and put them away. In his initial scouting report, Presto wrote, “He’s got no interest in walking hitters.” Presto also noticed a sense of perseverance in DuRapau that is still apparent.
“Took the opportunities I was given and made the most of it. That’s really all you can do,” DuRapau said. “When they give you a chance to pitch, pitch as well you can and keep going as far as you can.”
The only setbacks came last season. DuRapau was suspended for 50 games following a second positive test for a drug of abuse. When he returned, he put up a 6.33 ERA in 11 appearances for Indianapolis. He wasn’t invited to Major League Spring Training this year.
Indianapolis manager Brian Esposito held a team meeting to announce the news, but he began it by talking about the grind of a season. Toward the end of his speech, Esposito played the song “Freaks” by Timmy Trumpet -- DuRapau’s warm-up song -- and everyone realized he was bound for the big leagues.
“There aren’t enough words to thank them for the opportunities they’ve given me,” DuRapau said. “I’m just doing my best not to let them down anymore.”
Around the horn
• Holmes, the Pirates’ No. 23 prospect per MLB Pipeline, posted a 6.32 ERA over 10 relief appearances with Indianapolis with more walks (15) than strikeouts (13). Holmes began his career as a starter, but the Pirates converted him into a multi-inning reliever at the end of Spring Training. He struggled in his first Major League appearance of the season, and the Bucs may need another fresh arm after he threw 49 pitches in two innings on Thursday night.
“You never want to have those bad outings,” Holmes said, “but having them behind me now and understanding what I need to do differently or how to prepare differently is only going to help me moving forward.”
• Kela did not pitch in three games before going on the injured list. Hurdle said the Pirates wanted to give the right-hander a chance to come back so they didn’t sideline him for 10 days when he only needed four to recuperate.
“We tried to do what was best for him and best for us, and sometimes they don’t work out the way you want them,” Hurdle said.
• With so many members of the Triple-A bullpen being shuttled to the Majors, the Pirates promoted No. 10 prospect Luis Escobar -- who posted a 0.00 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 10 relief appearances for Class A Advanced Bradenton -- to Indianapolis.