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Perrotto: David Bednar Right Where He Belongs



David Bednar, Pittsburgh Pirates

BRADENTON, Fla. — The speculation started as soon as the Pittsburgh Pirates signed Aroldis Chapman.

How would the move affect hometown hero David Bednar? Would Bednar be traded for a starting pitcher and Chapman take over as the closer? Would Bednar stay but be moved to a set-up role?

The question has been answered very quickly this spring.

Bednar will remain the closer. Manager Derek Shelton has been emphatic about that during the first few days of spring training at Pirate City.

“He’s kind of cemented himself into that role as one of the better guys in the league at that position,” Shelton said.

Bednar certainly deserves to remain the closer. In three seasons with the Pirates since being acquired from the San Diego Padres in a trade, the Mars High School graduate has a 2.25 ERA in 172 games with 61 saves and 226 strikeouts over 179.1 innings.

Bednar’s 39 saves last season tied for the National League lead with the San Francisco Giants’ Camilo Doval. Bednar has also been selected for the last two All-Star Games.

Yet is it understandable why there were at least thoughts that the Pirates signed Chapman to a one-year, $10.5-million contract in free agency to possibly be the closer. The seven-time All-Star is 21st in major-league history with 321 saves in 14 seasons.

However, general manager Ben Cherington was open to Chapman and his representatives from the beginning of the negotiations that Bednar would remain the closer.

“We were very clear that we were signing Aroldis to be a high-leverage reliever and help us win games. David was going to be the primary ninth-inning guy,” Cherington said. “At the same time, we all know there are days during the year where not everyone is available. We feel good that we have some other options that can close, including Aroldis if that opportunity came up.”

Yet Bednar did not worry about his job security when Chapman signed. Instead, Bednar was happy to have a hard-throwing left-hander to add to a potentially outstanding bullpen that includes Colin Holderman, Carmen Mlodzinski and lefty Ryan Borucki.

“Surprised, but I’m pumped,” Bednar said about the addition of Chapman. “I was very happy. He makes this team a lot better. This bullpen group and how we’re going to be able to shorten games is going to be awesome.”

Shortening the game is indeed the plan for the Pirates. They are thin in the starting rotation with two spots still open behind presumptive opening-day starter Mitch Keller and left-handers Martin Perez and Marco Gonzales.

The Pirates are also considering reprising the final weeks of last season when they often used openers or had bullpen games in place of traditional starting pitchers. Shelton is confident the Pirates can balance the shaky rotation with a potential lockdown bullpen.

“Having Holderman, and having Chapman to mix and match, having Borucki and the strides he made last year and then there’s a ton of competition with a lot of good arms,” Shelton said. “It’s probably the biggest stable of arms that we’ve had in the (five) years that I’ve been here with different repertoires and to be able to do different things. It’s exciting when you have those guys at the backend of the game. It’s one thing we’ve talked about is wanting to shorten games.”

Bednar is certainly all for that idea. He believes the Pirates could have one of the better bullpens in the major leagues.

“It’s a group I was really excited for going into this year,” Bednar said. “Then you add a guy like Chapman, it takes it to a whole other level. It’s a really good group. Really excited to see this spring and getting to know everybody and everybody gelling together and looking forward to it.”

If the bullpen does indeed gel, the Pirates could take another step forward after going from 62 wins in 2022 to 76 wins last season. And it is comforting for Shelton and his team to know Bednar is the man ready to pitch the ninth inning with a lead.

As he should be.

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