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Hunter Stratton Took the Long Road to First Big-League Save



Hunter Stratton, Jason Delay, Pittsburgh Pirates

PITTSBURGH, Pa. — Hunter Stratton has been through the highest of highs and the lowest of lows for a professional baseball player over the last seven months.

The right-hander received his first call to the major leagues during the final month of last season. He made his MLB debut against the Milwaukee Brewers on Sep. 5, throwing two scoreless innings and striking out a pair.

As a 16th-round draft pick, it was already a long journey for Stratton to reach Pittsburgh. That journey would become even longer to get to where he was now.

Stratton was non-tendered by the Pirates in the offseason. He re-joined the organization as a non-roster invitee to spring training.

Seemingly a long-shot to crack the opening-day roster, Stratton forced the Pirates’ hand with an excellent spring showing. The 27-year-old made eight scoreless appearances in the Grapefruit League.

Injuries to fellow relievers Dauri Moreta, Carmen Mlodzinski and Colin Holderman certainly helped his cause, but Stratton earned his way onto the roster.

He was just as surprised as anyone to hear the news.

“It’s been exciting. I didn’t expect to make the roster out of camp as a non-roster invite,” Stratton said. “Everything just unfolded right in front of me … I did what I had to do.”

Not only did Stratton make his first opening-day roster, but he quickly found himself in a big spot.

In the Pirates’ final game of their four-game set with the Miami Marlins, Stratton was tasked with preserving a 9-7 lead in extra innings.

Stratton got the job done, keeping the Marlins from scoring a run. In doing so, he earned the first save of his brief career.

“Man, it’s a moment every kid dreams of. It felt so cool, it really felt surreal,” he said.

Stratton had to work his way out of a jam. With the automatic runner starting on second base to begin the extra frame, Stratton allowed a base hit to Josh Bell, giving the Marlins runners on first and third with nobody out and the winning run at the plate.

He retired the next three batters he faced, including a strikeout of Jazz Chisholm Jr., who hit a grand slam earlier in the game, to seal the win.

Stratton was able to keep himself calm in the biggest spot of his career.

“Honestly I tried to not even think about it,” he said. “I tried to tell myself to blackout, block out anything and try to focus only on the catcher and what I’m gonna throw next.”

Perhaps it was easier for Stratton to compose himself because of his newfound fatherhood. Stratton’s wife gave birth to a baby boy named Maverick not long before the Pirates broke camp.

In a way, it was a full-circle moment for Stratton. Not even seven full months before he became a dad, he gifted his own father his first-career strikeout ball.

This time around, Stratton is keeping the memorable baseball as a trophy for both he and his son to cherish.

“It’s gonna sit up on my mantle. I gave my dad my first strikeout ball, but this one’s for me.”

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