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How Pirates Plan to Handle Closer Role in David Bednar’s Absence

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Aroldis Chapman, Pittsburgh Pirates

PITTSBURGH — The Pittsburgh Pirates are going to be without two-time All-Star closer for at least a little while.

David Bednar was placed on the 15-day injured list with a left oblique strain on Sunday. The stint on the IL is retroactive to June 20, so the first day Bednar could return to the mound is on July 5.

Though Bednar’s season numbers are not up to par with what he’s done since joining the Pirates prior to the start of the 2021 season, they don’t paint the whole picture.

Bednar struggled mightily to begin the season, blowing three of his first four save opportunities. He had an 11.70 ERA through the first month of the season. But over his last 21 plate appearances, Bednar has a superb 1.77 ERA with four runs against him in 20.1 innings.

The right-hander’s success has translated to much-improved reliability in the ninth inning. Bednar has converted each of his last 15 save opportunities for the Pirates.

But without Bednar, the Pirates will have to have someone — or multiple players — step up and fill the closer role.

One of those players will be veteran Aroldis Chapman, who closed out the Pirates’ 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Rays on Saturday night. Though it was only his second save of the season, Chapman ranks third among active players with 323 saves, trailing only Kenley Jansen (435) and Craig Kimbrel (433).

Chapman went through a period of poor performance but has been sharper in recent outings. Eight of his last 10 appearances have been scoreless and he has a 1.86 ERA with 13 strikeouts in 9.2 innings over that stretch.

While Chapman has plenty of experience handling the ninth inning, another Pirates’ reliver does not, though he too will get chances. Colin Holderman has only two saves in his career but provides manager Derek Shelton with some flexibility.

“We have two guys in the back with Holderman and Chapman that can both do it, so I think it will depend on the situation,” Shelton said on how he will handle the ninth. “(Saturday) we got a stretch where we liked Holdy at. (Sunday) we had a stretch where we liked Holdy at. I think we can go back and forth with it.”

Holderman was the losing pitcher in the Pirates’ 3-1 loss to the Rays on Sunday afternoon after allowing a pair of runs in the eighth inning.

Even with the disappointing outing on Sunday, Holderman has been excellent out of the bullpen for the Pirates this season since coming off the injured list on Apr. 11.

The right-hander has a 1.30 ERA through 29 appearances. In 27.2 innings, he’s struck out 31, walked 12 and has limited opposing batters to a miniscule .170 batting average.

The back-end of the Pirates’ bullpen this season looked like it was going to be the biggest strength for the team. Though it has not been smooth, the back of the bullpen has started to meet the lofty expectations down the stretch with Bednar, Holderman and Chapman all clicking at the same time.

The back-end will be tested, though, without its anchor.

Holderman believes that they will be able to keep it rolling until Bednar comes back healthy.

“That’s just what we do. Next man up,” he said on weathering Bednar’s absence. “I hope to pick up the slack while he’s gone and get him back here soon and keep rolling. I hope we don’t skip a beat.”

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