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Building a Better Bullpen: Pirates Focused on Different Approach in 2022

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One of the bigger question marks coming into the 2022 season for the Pittsburgh Pirates was the pitching staff as a whole. Could the starters provide enough innings? Can the bullpen stop the bleeding and maintain leads?

While we haven’t seen a ton of length from the starters to begin the year, the Pirates’ bullpen has been an extremely bright spot nine games into the season. Between Dillon Peters, Wil Crowe, Roansy Contreras, Miguel Yajure, Heath Hembree, and David Bednar, the bullpen has been all that and a bag of chips.

During Ben Cherington’s radio show on Sunday, he discussed what we have all been seeing with the bullpen and those “piggyback” type roles and the subtle nuances they have been applying at the beginning of the year and, in particular, Bryse Wilson’s start on Saturday.

“[Wilson does a good job keeping us in the game,” Cherington said. “When Wilson came out for the fifth Peters was already hot in the pen so we’re not waiting for trouble to happen and not have a pitcher ready to go. We targeted a part of the lineup that Peters was going to go into the game.”

Cherington wanted to affirm that pulling Wilson had nothing to do with trust in him. The information that they gathered showed a more favorable matchup having Peters involved, and they pulled the trigger without hesitation.

Cherington emphasized that the Pirates can’t just make these decisions on the fly; they have to be ready and have their fingers on the pulse ahead of time to make these situations and scenarios work. Cherington said that on Saturday, the staff had identified ahead of time approximately when they wanted Peters to come into the game to replace Wilson, and had Peters warmed up and ready to go at that point.,

Similarly, another scenario that Cherington pointed out was using Bednar in different high-leverage situations and not just the ninth inning. On Saturday, the Pirates inserted Bednar in the seventh inning to face the Nationals’ heart of the order.

“The information that we had said that the best matchup for the Pirates at that moment in the seventh inning was Bednar,” he said. “It was the highest leverage situation in the game, and Bednar was the right choice.”

Cherington also admitted that takes buy-in from a player like Bendar, nominally the team’s closer, to be willing to forgo save opportunities to pitch in any inning. That doesn’t seem to be an issue with the Pittsburgh native.

“Honestly, I’m ready to roll in any situation they throw me in,” Bednar said. “I’m pretty locked down there whenever. Anytime the phone rings I have the mindset that it can be me. I’m ready to help the team win any way I can, that’s what matters the most.”

Fast forward to the ninth inning of Sunday’s game, Bednar was thrown into another high leverage situation to face the top of the Nationals’ order in Cesar Hernandez, Juan Soto, and Nelson Cruz. Bednar faced four batters in the ninth and earned his first save of the season.

“[Bednar] pitched well, highest leverage situation in the game on Saturday,” manager Derek Shelton said. “He pitched an inning and two-thirds going into a day game, maybe not a situation where he pitches again. First thing this morning, he walked into my office and said I want to pitch today. I told Bednar to go out and throw, and he looked good to go. Bednar will get the middle of the lineups, that’s how his stuff plays, and again, this shows how we will deploy our bullpen.”

So far, that seems to be working. All five of the Pirates’ wins have been of the come-from-behind nature as the bullpen has allowed the team to get back into games. As a whole, the Pittsburgh bullpen has a 2.98 ERA this season, which is 10th in the majors.

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