PITTSBURGH – David Bednar, through no fault of his own, went a month without a save.
The Pittsburgh Pirates closer has made up for lost time in the last week, though.
The Pirates are on a five-game winning streak and Bednar has saved four of the victories. That includes all three games of a weekend sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals that the Pirates finished with a 2-1 victory on Sunday at PNC Park.
It marked the first time Bednar pitched three days in a row during his five-year career. Yet he was none the worst for the wear as he preserved the one-run lead for veteran left-hander Rich Hill, who allowed only one run in 6.2 innings.
Bednar gave up a one-out single to Luken Baker, who was making his major-league debut. However, the stout right-hander then got Jordan Walker to fly out to right field before striking out Andrew Knizner to end it.
This is Hill’s first year with the Pirates but 19th in the major leagues. The 43-year-old has as large a frame of reference as any player in the major league and he has been impressed by Bednar.
“In my opinion, he’s one of the best (closers),” Hill said. “I’d put him up there with any of the guys that I’ve played with, who arguably could be and probably will be Hall of Famers. I think that’s something where you see that mix of pitches that he is able to use and execute is special. I know it’s early for David and his career, but you can see that conviction and that confidence and that’s something that you want in your close. That’s something that we’re fortunate to have.”
Bednar has been outstanding this season even though the Pirates did not present a save opportunity to him for a stretch of 26 games from April 30-May 29. They went 6-19 in that span following a surprising 20-8 start to the season.
The 29-year-old has converted 13 of 14 save opportunities, including his last nine in a row. Bednar has a 1.13 ERA through 24 games along with a 0.75 WHIP and 30 strikeouts in 24 innings.
Over the last week, Bednar has greatly bolstered his chance of making a second straight All-Star Game appearance. Bednar closed out the National League’s win at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles last July and might have the opportunity to do so again on July 11 at T-Mobile Park in Seattle.
The two potential Hall of Famers that Hill referenced were Kenley Jansen and Jonathan Papelbon.
“There’s some other guys in there I know that I’ve shortchanged, but in all honesty, David with the fastball that he has and the ability to command that breaking ball, command that split-finger that falls off the table,” Hill said. “It’s a cutter that he throws, cutter-slider that to me, it’s four extremely impressive pitches that most times, you might see closer have two. So now, trying to cover four is a tall task to ask of hitters in that ninth inning.”
Pirates manager Derek Shelton also credits the pitch mix for making Bednar “one of the elite closers in the game.”
It’s easy for any manager to ride a closer of Bednar’s caliber as long as he can. And Shelton kind of pushed the limit Sunday by using Bednar for a third straight day.
Perhaps Shelton’s biggest player usage mistake last season came when he had Bednar work two innings and throw 50 pitches on May 30 in a win over the Dodgers in Los Angeles.
Bednar had a 0.75 ERA in 20 games before that night at Chavez Ravine and a 4.23 ERA in 25 games the remainder of the season. Bednar also sat out all of August and the first three weeks of September because of lower back inflammation.
Over the last three days, Bednar threw 42 pitches total.
That’s not an excessive amount but the Pirates should be careful not to play with too much fire around their fireman.