Tellez, Bucs show support for Bednar after shaky start to '24

April 9th, 2024

PITTSBURGH -- There are many sounds that usually accompany pitching the ninth inning at PNC Park. His closer entrance music, “Renegade” by Styx. Cheers from fans. The blasting of the “A New Pirate Generation” victory song after the third out is recorded.

On Tuesday afternoon, a new sound was heard: Boos from the home crowd.

Bednar entered with a two-run lead, but he could not consistently find the strike zone and wound up surrendering four runs to the Tigers before being pulled with just one out. The Pirates would go on to lose, 5-3.

As media approached Bednar at his locker postgame, first baseman moved in front of the assembled group to make a statement.

"This is the pride of Pittsburgh,” Tellez said, putting his hand on Bednar’s shoulder. “To everybody: We don't do that out here. We're a good team. We're winning for a reason. We're going get our man back on track, but what happened today is, I think, unacceptable. We, as a group in Pittsburgh, have to be better. He's an All-Star for a reason and we just have to be better. That being said, [he's a] two-time All-Star."

Let that silence any questions about the clubhouse's faith in its closer amid his bumpy start to the year.

“Obviously, there's peaks and valleys through every season,” Bednar said. “We're going to get over this. It's definitely tough. Seeing these guys have my back, it's huge.”

The season is very young and the Pirates are off to a 9-3 start, but Bednar hasn’t contributed much to that cause. Coming into the year, the thought was there may be some questions in the rotation, but the bullpen was going to be solid and protect leads.

It’s been almost the opposite thus far. Martín Pérez spun an eight-inning gem Tuesday, which was the rotation’s sixth straight quality start. Bednar, on the other hand, has blown three of his four save opportunities, coming off a year when he led the National League with 39 saves out of 42 chances.

It’s reasonable to assume Bednar might not be as sharp out of the gate as he normally would be after he was sidelined most of spring with a right lat strain. He didn’t pitch until the final week of the Grapefruit League season, so there are some cobwebs to knock off. The first two blown saves were hardly disasters, either, where he couldn’t protect one-run leads, but the Pirates would end up winning in extra innings anyway.

Tuesday looked different.

He started by walking Riley Greene, with balls three and four being fastballs that missed very high. Then, he plunked Spencer Torkelson on a curveball. A Gio Urshela base hit would later tie it, while a Kerry Carpenter bloop over a drawn-in Alika Williams gave the Tigers the lead.

Bednar exited with two hit batters, a walk allowed and a pitch chart unlike anyone he has had in his four seasons with the Pirates:

“What we've seen over the past couple of years is elite command,” said manager Derek Shelton of Bednar. “Over the last three or four outings, that just hasn't been there.”

Bednar and Shelton both confirmed that the right-hander is healthy, and the manager said he believes missing spring is the “indicator” for this wildness.

"At the end of the day, there's no excuse,” Bednar said. “I need to execute. They played their butts off today; I wasn't able to finish it. At the end of the day, I just need to be better and ultimately just throw strikes in the zone. I just was not able to do that today and it ended up costing us the game."

Bednar is looking to get his rhythm back, and while Shelton didn’t directly address if Bednar could change innings to get back on track, it seems too soon to assume Aroldis Chapman will take on the closer role.

"I think we'll sit down and talk about why we think there's command issues,” Shelton said. “If it's mechanical, if it's pitch mix, what it is. I think once we figure that out, we kind of go from there."

For now, the priority is getting the two-time All-Star back to his 2023 form.

“You never want to have these stretches, but I think everybody's gone through these before,” Bednar said. “I've had some struggles before and overcome them. It's still so early. Obviously, [it's] very frustrating, but at the end of the year, hopefully we'll be looking back and laughing at this."