Contreras returns with longest career outing

August 18th, 2022

PITTSBURGH -- As the clouds swallowed the evening sky on an unassuming Pittsburgh evening, “Dark Knight Dummo” by Trippie Redd began to boom throughout PNC Park. The bass-bumping banger hadn’t blared through this ballpark in weeks. The song has served as the unofficial theme of The Ro Show, which had been off the air since July. That is, until Wednesday.

Roansy Contreras made his much-anticipated return to the starting rotation in the Pirates’ 8-3 loss to the Red Sox, pitching for the Buccos for the first time since being optioned on July 7. Contreras’ outing was a hodgepodge of good and bad, but the rookie was happy to be back, to once again absorb Trippie Redd’s drowsy, infectious falsetto as he prepared for battle. 

“It felt great,” Contreras said through team interpreter Mike Gonzalez. “It felt great to be back, to continue competing and helping the team however I can.”

Contreras’s final line was merely OK: Six innings, six hits, four runs, four walks and three strikeouts. 

The rookie breezed through the first, retiring the side on just seven pitches. The vibes were good. They only got better when Bryan Reynolds hit a towering, two-run home run that kissed the sky before landing in the Red Sox's bullpen. It was one of the better individual innings that Pittsburgh had enjoyed in some time. The Red Sox sullied the party.

Boston jumped on the right-hander in the second, which began as such: Single, walk, fly out, double, single, single. That formula added up to three runs. Those types of innings can spell doom for budding pitchers. Contreras took the lump in stride.

The Red Sox had their share of hard contact, but Contreras allowed just one run over the next four frames. By evening’s end, Contreras managed to match the longest outing of his young career. 

“You see a lot of young starters that that happens and they end up throwing four, and he was able to bounce back and continue to execute pitches and went out in the sixth and was efficient, too,” manager Derek Shelton said. “So I think that was really encouraging, because that's not easy to do, especially when your fastball's not as consistent as you would like.”

The rookie struggled to command his fastball, but what he lacked with the heat, he had with the spin. Contreras’ slider, which generated a career-high 17 called strikes and whiffs, was the only pitch that the right-hander truly had working, but it was enough to navigate a tough lineup. 

“[The slider] was very, very important, especially being able to be back, facing a team as good as Boston, facing a lineup like that,” Contreras said. “I’m just glad I’m back. I want to continue to grow and help the team win.”

Over the next several weeks, Contreras should have his opportunities to grow at the Major League level. For a couple weeks, though, Contreras’ development occurred down on the farm.

On July 7, Contreras threw six innings of one-run ball with seven strikeouts. The outing was the best of Contreras’ young career. He was optioned later that afternoon and did not pitch again for about three weeks. The Pirates said that they worked in a planned, in-season rest, one meant to manage his workload. Last season, Contreras missed all of July and August with a right forearm strain.

With Triple-A Indianapolis, Contreras slowly built back up. Two innings in his first outing. Three innings in his second outing. Four innings in his third outing. Five innings in his fourth outing. Contreras used the time with Indianapolis to continue growing, saying he worked on mastering his movements and mechanics, but admitted that the demotion caught him off guard. 

“Throughout this experience and the moves and my time in the Minor Leagues, and also my experience pitching up here, the biggest thing I’ve learned is that there’s always going to be moves and decisions that you may not understand or that just kind of throw you off, but [it’s important to] remain focused on the mission,” Contreras said. “Continue working, remind yourself daily why you’re here, why you’re doing this and just continue working hard and giving the best you have. That’s what I have control over. That’s what I can provide, just the best that I have and everything else, just take it as a learning experience.”

This, likely, won’t be the final time that PNC Park’s sound system slaps “Dark Knight Dummo” this season. Contreras is back in the fold, and every five or so days, he’ll have the chance to continue his evolution.