Pittsburgh Pirates Pitching Staff Has Questions to Be Answered

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Questions remain for the Pittsburgh Pirates pitching staff to begin the shortened 2022 Spring Training. With MLB and the MLBPA agreeing to a new CBA, the MLB lockout ended after an obnoxiously long 99 days. With this news, the Pirates are scrambling to get players in game shape mentally and physically.

Pittsburgh Pirates Pitching Thoughts 

Pittsburgh still has some spots open for competition. Free Agent signee José Quintana is most likely a lock to make the Opening Day rotation. Right-handers Miguel Yajure and Bryse Wilson are also counted on to make the starting rotation. The remaining two spots are up in the air but will most likely come down to Mitch Keller, Max Kranick, Dillon Peters, and/or Zach Thompson, who they recently acquired from the Miami Marlins.

Opening Day Less than a Month

With Opening Day now less than a month away, the push is on the coaches to finish making roster moves as quickly as they can. Among the moves that need to be decided on during Spring Training is finalizing their starting staff, and they also need to decide on their bullpen pitchers. It is possible that some of the pitchers competing as starters could find their way on the team as a reliever.

The Pirates and reliever Heath Hembree came to an agreement on a one-year major league contract. Hembree will give the Pirates a much needed strikeout arm to add to their late-inning relievers. He spent last year pitching for the Cincinnati Reds and spent a portion of the season as the team’s closer.

What about Wil Crowe

That leaves Wil Crowe, who spent the 2021 season in the team’s starting rotation. Right now, it appears he will be used as a long-term option out of the bullpen. Crowe’s arsenal of pitches makes him a viable answer to a bullpen that needs all the help it can get. He can touch 95-96 on his fastball and mixes in a slider changeup, and hopefully, that mix of pitches will keep hitters at bay when he enters the game in critical situations.

Bullpen Arms

Questions remain for the Pittsburgh Pirates pitching staff, and the bullpen arms will also have competition in Spring Training. Like the starting rotation, 2021 was a year to forget for the Pirates’ bullpen. 27 different pitchers appeared in relief at some point. They’re definitely looking to improve on their 4.55 ERA.

Set to compete for spots in the bullpen as either long relief, set up pitcher, or seventh- and eighth-inning specialists are southpaw Anthony Banda and right-handers Eric Hanhold, Sam Howard, and Nick Mears.

A Closer Is on the Horizon

The Pirates closer could be on the horizon since the coaches would like to see David Bednar win the job. A bit of a late bloomer at age 26, Bednar was never given a chance to prove himself in the two seasons he played with the San Diego Padres. He is a Pittsburgh native and has been effective throughout the minors. He is not an all-strikeout pitcher, but he gets many ground ball outs with his mix of pitches. Last season he had a 2.23 ERA in 61 games and finished with three saves.

If Bednar struggles, look for Mr. Versatile, Chris Stratton, to resume the closer role. Stratton has become the Pirates go-to reliever and continues to show his importance. Over the past two seasons, he has pitched in every imaginable role, from long relief to short relief to set up guy to extra innings guy. Whatever they ask of him, whatever the situation, Stratton has consistently been able to come into games and get outs.

Work Cut-Out for Manager

However, questions remain for the Pirates pitching staff, and anager Derek Shelton has his work cut out for him. He has a young pitching staff but confidence in coach Oscar Marin. Marin, a “new school” coach, has helped the rotation movement into a more analytics-focused study of pitching. Marin’s understanding of that information and his ability to effectively translate the complex data to his pitchers has been invaluable.

The bottom line is that there is work to be done. Shelton and his staff don’t have much time to set things up before opening. On top of the short time frame, they’re going to be competing against 29 other teams also looking to get their rosters set.

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Players/Managers Mentioned:

Mitch Keller, Max Kranick, Dillon Peters, Heath Hembree, Zach Thompson, Wil Crowe, David Bednar, Eric Hanhold, Sam Howard, Nick Mears, Chris Stratton, Derek Shelton