This is one in a series of stories breaking down members of the Pittsburgh Pirates 40-man roster.
Johan Oviedo broke through as a viable major-league starting pitching in 2023. Unfortunately for the Pittsburgh Pirates right-hander, he will have to wait another year to build upon last season.
The 25-year-old will miss the upcoming season after undergoing Tommy John reconstructive elbow surgery in November.
Oviedo was a bright spot last year for the Pirates as they improved by 14 wins to 76-86 after originally begin expected to begin the season at Triple-A Indianapolis. Instead, he made the team out of spring training when right-hander JT Brubaker injured his elbow late in the Grapefruit League season and needed Tommy John surgery.
Oviedo made 32 starts and pitched 177.2 innings, both career highs, while going 9-14 with a 4.31 ERA. He struck out 158 but also walked 83 and led the National League by hitting 13 batters.
Oviedo made all his scheduled starts and avoided the injured list. However, he began feeling discomfort early in the offseason and imaging revealed a torn elbow ligament.
Oviedo pitched 31 more innings than in other professional seasons since his career began in 2016 in the St. Louis Cardinals farm system. While it is easy to second-guess Oviedo’s 2023 workload in hindsight, general manager Ben Cherington said there was never concern that the 6-foot-5, 245-pounder might be breaking down.
“We got really good feedback from him about recovery (following starts),” Cherington said. “No concerns whatsoever over the course of the season. We didn’t see any concerning changes in the pitch data. The quality of the pitches, the velocity. Again, standard dips, ups and downs, over the course of a season, but in terms of the trendline, didn’t see concerns.
“He was recording strong and certainly wanted to keep pitching. In this particular case, it just so happened, even on the last day of the season, he’s exiting and there’s nothing. Unfortunately, a few days after the season, he did report, ‘I am feeling something.’ Because of the way the season had gone, we weren’t that concerned about it initially. Unfortunately, we learned more and there was something there.”
Oviedo was dominant at times, finishing eighth among National League starting pitchers with a .238 batting average against. He made 15 starts in which he allowed either zero or one run, second-most by a major-league starter, and the most for a Pittsburgh Pirates pitcher since Francisco Liriano also had 15 in 2013.
On May 24, Oviedo pitched an immaculate inning against the eventual World Series champion Texas Rangers as he struck out the side on nine pitches. Oviedo threw first career complete game and shutout on Aug. 28 when he blanked the Kansas City Royals on two hits.
Oviedo also finished the season on a high note, going 6-4 with a 3.72 ERA in 14 starts after the All-Star break. That followed a first half in which he had a 3-10 record and 4.88 ERA in 18 starts while losing eight straight decisions at one point.
Though Oviedo’s average fastball velocity of 95.8 mph ranked in the 80th percentile of MLB starters, opponents hit .277 and slugged .477 off the heater. Conversely, he held hitters to a .193 average off his curveball and .210 against his slider.
Oviedo finished the season feeling confident that he was on the verge of becoming a top-flight starting pitcher in the big leagues. Now, he’s facing a long rehab from major surgery.