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Depleted Bullpen? No Problem for Pirates on Opening Day

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Pittsburgh Pirates, Luis Ortiz

If I would have told you that the Pittsburgh Pirates would need their bullpen to cover 6.1 innings without help from David Bednar, Colin Holderman and Carmen Mlodzinski, what would you have said?

You probably would think it was going to be a long night for the Pirates — and I would have thought you’d be right with that assumption.

However, even with three of their top relievers unavailable, the bullpen was a major reason as to why the Pirates pulled out a 6-5 win over the Miami Marlins on opening day.

It took the Pirates 12 innings to take their first lead of the game as manager Derek Shelton would rely on six different arms in relief of starter Mitch Keller, who worked 5.2 innings.

Josh Fleming was the first one out of the bullpen and retired the lone batter he faced after Keller plunked Nick Flores and was subsequently taken out of the game.

After that, Hunter Stratton and Ryan Borucki combined to record three outs in the seventh inning. The latter was tasked with pitching the eighth, which he did in seamless fashion.

Aroldis Chapman made his Pirates’ debut in the ninth. The veteran left-hander retired the side in order but did it with mostly off-speed pitches. Chapman relied mainly on sliders and splitters to get Luis Arráez to fly out, Josh Bell to strike out and Bryan De La Cruz to ground out.

In retiring Bell, he did what no other Pirates’ pitcher did in the game. Bell had reached base safely in his first four plate appearances of the game up to that point.

Luis Ortiz came up big for the Pirates in the extra frames. Outside of two intentional walks, Ortiz didn’t allow a hit or issue a traditional walk. Both times he issued a free pass, he erased the baserunner on a double play. All six outs Ortiz recorded came on ground balls.

Most importantly, Ortiz kept the automatic runner from scoring in both innings, effortlessly accomplishing a daunting task. Also of note, Ortiz’s fastball velocity was back in the upper-90s, an encouraging sign for the young right-hander.

After the Pirates took the lead on Jared Triolo’s single in the top of the 12th, it was Jose Hernandez tasked with closing out the win.

Hernandez wasn’t even supposed to be on the Pirates’ opening day roster, but Roansy Contreras was placed on the paternity list prior to the start of the game.

How did Hernandez handle the bright lights? By retiring all three batters he faced for the first save of his brief big-league career.

As for Bednar, no need to fret too much. Shelton said postgame on SportsNet Pittsburgh that Bednar was unavailable for the game as he works his way back from a lat injury that kept him out of action for most of spring training.

Holderman (illness) and Mlodzinski (forearm) both were placed on the injured list to start the season.

At least for a day, the services of the trio of right-handed relievers were not needed. Though the Pirates certainly don’t want to get used to not having them in the fold, it sure was impressive to see what the bullpen did without them.

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