PITTSBURGH -- For much of his career, the debate about Steven Brault has been simple: Is he a starter or a reliever?
Now, the Pirates appear to be interested in adding another wrinkle. Is the left-handed pitcher also an outfielder?
Manager Clint Hurdle and general manager Neal Huntington broached the idea with Brault during his exit interview, and Brault said he is interested in potentially picking up some innings in the outfield to get more at-bats next season.
“There used to be two-way players way back in the day, then people decided it wouldn’t work in Major League Baseball. I think what you’re seeing is that it can,” Brault said. “If you can have somebody that can add value on both sides of the ball, obviously that’s nice. I would love to be that guy for this team.”
It’s not a foreign concept for Brault, who was an outfielder and a pitcher at Regis University. But he hasn’t roamed the outfield since then, he said, aside from doing so “very heartily in batting practice.”
“It’ll be interesting to see how they decide to go about it and how it all works out,” Brault said. “It’s something we talked about in our exit meeting a little bit, that we’ll try to get more at-bats next year. I’m excited, and I will definitely be doing a lot of hitting work in the offseason.”
There are other two-way players out there, none as notable as Angels starter/DH Shohei Ohtani. The Pirates helped veteran outfielder JB Shuck pick up pitching as a reliever this season in Triple-A Indianapolis. And there was another example in front of the Bucs on Friday night: Reds reliever/center fielder Michael Lorenzen.
Brault started the Pirates’ 6-5 win over the Reds, striking out 10 and picking up a fifth-inning single to boost his average to .341. Lorenzen started in center field, pitched two scoreless innings in relief and hit a go-ahead single in the eighth inning before Kevin Newman sent the Pirates home with a walk-off homer.
Brault has always taken pride in his hitting. This year, he’s gone 14-for-41 with a homer, a double, one walk and only eight strikeouts. When the Pirates’ bench has been short -- as it was on Friday -- he and Joe Musgrove have been Hurdle’s emergency pinch-hitting options. Even though Brault was done pitching for the night, Hurdle left him in to hit for himself in the fifth inning on Friday.
“The players that were really good hitters in college then get drafted as a pitcher, they don’t just become bad hitters all of a sudden,” Brault said. “I think if you can get the reps and everything, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work.”
Brault said he didn’t discuss any specifics with Hurdle and Huntington, though he expects they will talk more over the offseason. When Hurdle brought it up, he made it sound as if the plan would be to have Brault pitch in the starting rotation while occasionally playing the outfield.
“It’s just going to be different terrain. Lorenzen being a reliever, how they work that, it’s kind of cool when you go from center field and just run back to the bullpen,” Hurdle said. “With Steven, it could be more seamless because he’s starting. The day after [his start], you may not do it. The day before, you may not do it. But there’s a couple days in between that you could probably take advantage of.”
Brault struck out a career-high 10 batters in his season finale but walked four and allowed four runs on four hits over five innings. He needed 96 pitches to record 15 outs, but he made the Reds swing and miss 17 times as he recorded the first double-digit strikeout game by a Pittsburgh lefty since Francisco Liriano on July 21, 2016.
Where does he go from here? At one point this summer, he was the Pirates’ most consistent starter -- and Pittsburgh’s primary need heading into next season is more reliable starting pitching. Between what he was able to accomplish during an excellent 13-start stretch earlier this season and the way he felt on Friday night, Brault believes he can help out on that front, too.
“Tonight, even though the stat line isn’t exactly perfect, I think what it shows is that moving into the offseason, I know I’m going to work on not being somebody else but trying to be the best version of me that I can be,” Brault said. “I’m excited to see what we can do as a team next year and how I can improve as well.”