Brubaker cementing role, 'growing into own'

May 12th, 2021

The Pirates’ rotation was reshaped this offseason, as Joe Musgrove and Jameson Taillon were shipped out in trades and Trevor Williams was not tendered a contract. That's not to mention when Steven Brault was placed on the 60-day injured list before the season began.

In their stead, a new top-of-the-rotation arm is beginning to come into his own and cement his spot in the Pirates’ long-term plans.

allowed just one run on five hits in six innings, as he lowered his ERA to 2.58 and his WHIP to 1.12 while leading Pittsburgh to a 7-2 win against the Reds on Tuesday night at PNC Park. It’s the fourth time the sophomore Major League pitcher has allowed just one run across his seven starts this season.

The first of those one-run starts came against the Reds in Brubaker’s season debut on April 5, but it turned out to be his shortest outing of the season and led to a loss.

But the thing that hurt Brubaker then -- walks -- hasn’t hurt him since, as he has been fully in command and in attack mode.

The right-hander proved it by defeating the visiting Reds with only one walk on his line Tuesday. Since he gave up four free passes in his season debut, Brubaker has walked only five batters in a six-game span.

That doesn’t mean Brubaker has been completely free of mistakes. He made one in the third inning against Jesse Winker, who has been one of MLB’s hottest hitters in the early going. Brubaker threw Winker a sinker that cut across the plate instead of in on his front hip, and the Reds slugger sent it into the Allegheny River on a bounce.

The fact that it was a clear mistake made the homer easier for Brubaker to stomach and bounce back from. In fact, he dared the next batter, Nick Castellanos, to put a swing on it to make his point.

“[Winker] got me,” Brubaker said. “I wanted to get the next guy to swing within the next two pitches, so [I was] going right after him.”

Castellanos did swing through the next two pitches, then swung once more on a curveball in the dirt to complete the strikeout. That started a stretch of 11 outs in a 12-batter span for Brubaker, after letting six runners reach base over the first three innings.

“That’s the challenge -- and that’s the mental challenge -- of pitching,” Bucs manager Derek Shelton said. “It’s really easy to say, ‘Go after and attack guys, and do this and that.’ I think that’s been one of the impressive things about Bru.”

What was even more impressive to Shelton was the way Brubaker continues to attack hitters with offspeed stuff, which he’s doing it without nibbling around the zone.

The Pirates’ manager said Brubaker’s slider might have been the best it’s been all season, but it was more than just the one pitch. Brubaker painted the outside corner with regularity against right-handers, and he also induced weak contact from left-handers with a steady mix of his sinker, curveball and four-seamer.

Only five of the 18 balls put in play against Brubaker were hard hit, and only two of those went for hits. He had some bad batted-ball luck early, as Winker hit a ball with a projected 62.6-mph exit velocity against the shift for a double in the first inning, but Brubaker didn’t let that faze him.

Really, Brubaker hasn’t let much of anything faze him. In his start against the Padres on Wednesday, he worked around three errors and some low-probability hits to limit San Diego to two runs in five innings, helping to keep Pittsburgh within striking distance. Pressure-packed situations don’t bother Brubaker either, as he’s allowed only three hits in 31 at-bats with runners in scoring position.

“He's starting to really grow into his own as a pitcher,” said second baseman Adam Frazier, who is on a 12-game hitting streak. "I think he's going to be able to keep going and be a really productive arm.”