It has been a season of back and forth and up and down for Cody Bolton.
The Pittsburgh Pirates rookie reliever has been recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis six times this season.
It reminds me of one of former Pirates manager Clint Hurdle’s best lines during his nine-year tenure. He was asked about infielder Pedro Ciriaco, who also frequently shuttled between Indianapolis and Pittsburgh during the 2011 season.
“Pedro has more plane tickets than at-bats,” Hurdle said.
Bolton certainly knows all the different ways to travel from Indianapolis to Pittsburgh and vice versa.
Bolton got his first callup on April 26 and made his major-league debut three days later when he pitched two scoreless innings of relief against the Nationals in Washington. His most recent promotion came on Aug. 27.
It’s all part and parcel of being a player with minor-league options remaining. The Pirates can send Bolton up and down without having to expose him to waivers.
For his part, Bolton has been a good sport about being on the Pittsburgh-Indianapolis shuttle.
“Overall, the traveling up and down, it gets to you but it’s part of the game,” Bolton said. “To play in the major leagues, it’s the reason why we play professional baseball. I’m just thankful whenever I get a chance to be (in the majors).”
Obviously, Bolton would like to stick in the big leagues. However, he has tried to make the most of each of his demotions this season.
“Overall, it’s pretty difficult when you get sent down but it’s also kind of a blessing because I get to go down and work on stuff,” Bolton said.
For example, Bolton believes he has improved his changeup this season during his time with Indianapolis.
“Not that those games in Triple-A don’t mean anything because they do, and you’re always trying to get better, but down there you are able to work on specific things a lot more,” Bolton said. “Up here, you’re trying to win so you throw your best stuff.”
Bolton is 1-0 with a 6.75 ERA in 13 games with the Pirates this season and 2-4 with a 4.01 ERA in 31 games with Indianapolis.
On May 29, Bolton had a nightmarish outing in San Francisco. The Giants tagged him for eight runs while Bolton retired only one of the nine batters he faced.
However, Bolton has gotten progressively better since then as he has held opponents scoreless in eight of his ensuing nine major-league outings. Bolton also feels he has completed his transition from starter to reliever that began last season.
“This year, I’ve been able to be full-on coming out of the bullpen and it’s pretty fun,” Bolton said. “It’s good to be around the guys who are out in the ‘pen. They’ve taught me a lot, showed me the dos and don’ts and I’m grateful to have them.
“I like the idea of pitching more often as a reliever. I don’t have to throw as much to get warm. I’ve gotten myself down to about 10 pitches and I’m ready to go. My arm feels a lot healthier. My body feels really healthy. The adrenaline is pretty awesome.”
The Pirates’ sixth-round draft pick in 2017 following his senior year of high school in Tracy, Calif., Bolton is also regaining some of the luster he lost on his prospect status because of injury.
Baseball America ranked Bolton as the Pirates’ fifth-best prospect entering spring training in 2020. However, the pandemic wiped out the minor-league season that year and Bolton then missed the 2021 season because of a knee injury.
However, Bolton has made it to the major leagues this season and is starting to show he belongs.
“There have been outings where I’ve struggled but there are also outings that I proved to myself that I do belong up here,” Bolton said. “So, I think the biggest thing is continuing to trust myself and trust what I’ve been taught and go from there.”
The next step? Getting off that shuttle.