Bullpen crucial to Bucs' walk-off effort

With Rich-Rod gone, Pirates auditioning handful for late-innings role

August 1st, 2021

PITTSBURGH -- Even when manager Derek Shelton chose not to commit to a closer in Spring Training, it was fairly obvious that right-hander Richard Rodríguez would get most of the save opportunities for the Pirates in 2021.

Now, after Rodríguez was traded to Atlanta in a Deadline deal, who gets the reps with the game on the line?

Pittsburgh ran out a few options on Saturday night in a close game that ended in a 3-2, walk-off win over the Phillies at PNC Park when grounded into an RBI fielder’s choice that legged out.

So, who are the top candidates in the biggest spots for the remainder of the season? Here’s a breakdown of Pittsburgh's top three options at the moment.

(45 games)
ERA: 2.85
Holds: 9
Saves: 0-for-2

Bednar blew his second save this season on Saturday, though neither has come in the ninth inning. He entered in the eighth against the Phillies and immediately hung a splitter to J.T. Realmuto for a double, then didn’t get a curveball down enough against Bryce Harper, who got enough bat on it for a shallow single to tie the game at 2.

However, Bednar kept the game scoreless beyond that

“I think the biggest thing there is, when you get a young guy like that in a high-leverage situation in front of an almost-full house, you see how he reacts,” Shelton said. “And he reacted [well], and he came back and finished the eighth, which was really important.”

With a high-velocity fastball, a swing-and-miss-heavy curveball (52.1 percent whiff rate) and a splitter that has a .196 batting average against, the tools are there for Bednar. Expect the high-leverage chances to be there, too.

(43 games)
Holds: 5
Saves: 1-for-2

Stratton has been the Swiss Army Knife of the bullpen, working in all kinds of roles. The most colorful example of that: His only save on the year is a 3 2/3-inning conversion against the Marlins on June 4.

With inexperienced arms making up the bulk of the Pirates’ relief core, Stratton is more than likely going to be pushed into a later-innings role. The right-hander, who was a Deadline trade candidate thanks to his experience and numbers, pitched the ninth on Saturday and worked around a pair of two-out singles.

As far as why Bednar worked the eighth vs. Stratton in the ninth on Saturday, the reasoning should be a theme in the coming weeks.

“It was more matchup-based, which is probably where we’re going to be for a while in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings,” Shelton said.

Stratton’s move to the back end also means long-relief roles will be open for the taking. Shelton mentioned , and are in contention for one of those spots, and figures to get some reps there, too, as he has throughout the season.

(33 games)
Holds: 4
Saves: 0-for-0

The focus on matchups will probably be intensified for Shreve. For the moment, he’s the only left-hander in the Pirates’ bullpen after Austin Davis was traded to the Red Sox at the Deadline. But Shreve's numbers point to someone who will get most of his outings in the late innings.

Shreve has a strong .193 batting average against despite using his fastball and his splitter a combined 82 percent of the time, with a slider scattered between in put-away counts. With as sterling an ERA and contact metrics as Shreve has presented, one figured him to be a strong Deadline trade piece, as he joined Pittsburgh at the beginning of the season on a Minor League deal.

But Shreve is still around, and the Pirates will turn to him a lot for the remainder of the season, assuming they don’t feel the need to clear roster spots for prospects to get opportunities.