Bucco Blasts: Pirates Have a Ke’Bryan Hayes Problem

Things have gone south in a hurry for the Pittsburgh Pirates. With their loss in Seattle on Sunday, the Pirates sit at .500 at 26-26 on the season. After a 20-8 start, they’ve gone 6-18 since. They have yet to win a series in the month of May. Guys like Ke’Bryan Hayes and Bryan Reynolds were off to good starts but have since cooled considerably. The pitching that carried the Buccos early on has gone wayward save for Mitch Keller.

One thing Pittsburgh does have going for them is that they still reside just 1.5 games outside of first place in the National League Central. That is a testament to how bad the division has been this season. The Pirates’ hot start had them out to a five game lead in the division. Even going just 12-12 over the last 24 games would’ve had out to a comfortable lead as May winds down.

There is a lot to discuss with the current state of the Pirates. Ke’Bryan Hayes’ offensive struggles, Roansy Contreras potentially being moved to the bullpen, and much more are discussed in this week’s “Bucco Blasts”.

Bucco Blasts: Pirates Have a Ke’Bryan Hayes Problem

Ke’Bryan Hayes’ $70 Million Offensive Struggles

On Opening Day last season, the Pirates officially announced the contract extension of third baseman Ke’Bryan Hayes. It got fans excited because ownership finally committed money to a player long term. It hadn’t happened for a while in the Steel City. The move came with cautious optimism however.

Hayes is one of the best fielders, not just at his position, but in all of baseball. Having him at the hot corner for nearly the next decade is a huge plus on that side of the ball. The Pirates were shelling out all this money without having a true feel for his hitting abilities.

Turns out, his flash-of-the-pan 24-game rookie season was just that. Hayes’ career slash line is .254/.318/.378 and he’s hit just 20 home runs. This sample size is over 307 career games. It isn’t like we’re going off of nothing when it comes to Hayes’ offensive ability. Third base is a prime spot for power hitting on a good teams’ roster. Hayes does not provide pop, or even much in the OBP department, thus far in his career.

The 26-year old struck out four times on Sunday afternoon including in the tenth inning when the Pirates had the bases loaded. The Mariners ended the game in the bottom-half. Those are the types of moments the Pirates need run production, especially from a guy considered to be a franchise cornerstone based upon his deal.

His elite defensive play is a big deal. But at some point, the offense has to come around. There is a possibility that the Pirates won’t get much more than what they’re receiving now from Ke’Bryan Hayes.

Roansy Contreras to the bullpen?

Much like Ke’Bryan Hayes, starting pitcher Roansy Contreras is a young player that Pirates’ management expect to be a part of the next good teams in Pittsburgh. Contreras got a cup of coffee at the end of the 2021 season before getting a permanent call last year. It was expected that 2023 could be his breakout year with a chance to start in the rotation from the beginning of the season. As many young pitchers, Contreras is experiencing the league’s pushback.

The 23-year old Dominican is 3-4 with a 4.33 ERA on the 2o23 season. Contreras was scheduled to start on Saturday before being bumped for a returning Vince Velasquez. On Sunday, Contreras made an appearance out of the bullpen. With an extra days rest, Contreras tossed two scoreless innings and allowed just one hit in relief.

It’s unclear if Contreras was going to be part of a six-man rotation or if he is being banished to the bullpen for the time being. Velasquez exited the game Saturday with elbow discomfort so that may give Contreras a chance to stay in the rotation. Prospect pitcher Luis Ortiz is up with the Pirates now and currently holding down a rotation spot clouding things even more on the Contreras front.

Contreras has seen his velocity dip a few ticks down to 93-94 MPH on his fastball that typically sat 95-96 MPH. It is leading to harder contact against and the ball being smacked out of the park more frequently. Contreras may have to toss a few good relief outings before he is awarded his rotation spot back. At 23, he can’t be cast aside yet because the talent is evident. He needs to be able to figure it out again.

Bednar’s Talent Currently Being Wasted

Pirates’ closer David Bednar is amongst the games’ best backend guys. He has the makings of a perennial all-star despite his team not having many opportunities to allow him to pitch. Things have gone to an extreme for him, however.

Bednar picked up nine saves in the Pirates’ first month as they blazed through the schedule. Now, Bednar hasn’t had a save situation since April 29th. That is exactly one month since he had even a chance to pick up a save. He tossed just seven innings in May as the Pirates have free fallen out of first place.

The Pittsburgh native gave up two runs across those seven outings but they both came against the Texas Rangers on May 22nd. He’s still been sharp despite coming into low leverage situations as of late. That’s an important deal of information if the Pirates can will themselves back into the thick of things knowing that Bednar seems to be 100%.

Maybe an easy workload in May will help keep him fresh assuming the Pirates begin winning again and need to lean on him more for a few weeks. It is a shame that he isn’t getting to close out games and help the Buccos win because he’s too talented for the lack of save opportunities he’s suffering through currently.

What’s ahead?

The Pirates finish up a west coast trip with three games against the San Francisco Giants staring Monday and ending Wednesday afternoon. Following their off day Thursday, they’ll bring it back to PNC Park for a weekend series against the surging St. Louis Cardinals. If things don’t get better as the calendar flips to June, the season could quickly spiral into one of the more disappointing collapses in Pirates’ history.

Photo Credit- Joe Nicholson- USA TODAY Sports