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Pirates’ Bullpen Competition Has Grown; Who’s in the Mix?

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Jose Hernandez, Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates are going to be relying on their bullpen as a key strength for the 2024 season.

A handful of guys already have their positions set in stone. The Pirates have made it clear that David Bednar, an All-Star each of the past two seasons, will continue to serve as closer. There was a bit of a controversy about who would handle the ninth inning when the Pirates signed veteran flamethrower Aroldis Chapman, but manager Derek Shelton quickly put that to bed early on in spring training.

Chapman looks primed to handle eighth-inning duties, but the Pirates have plenty of flexibility in the back of their bullpen and can decide who pitches when based on matchups.

Right-handers Carmen Mlodzinski and Colin Holderman can also be counted on to handle high-leverage innings. Left-hander Ryan Borucki is also a mix to handle the big spots after a stellar year in 2023.

Dauri Moreta seemingly had the inside track to a bullpen spot on the Pirates’ opening-day roster. However, Moreta will begin the year on the injured list and looks certain to miss an extended period of time with an elbow ligament injury.

Because of the injury to Moreta, there are three bullpen spots up for grabs between now and opening day agaisnt the Marlins in Miami on Mar. 28.

FOR STARTERS…

There are several starting pitchers battling for rotation spots who could theoretically wind up in the bullpen if needed.

Both Roansy Contreras and Bailey Falter are out of minor-league options, so the Pirates would have to risk losing either if they don’t earn a rotation spot. If they don’t end up in the rotation on the initial roster, either could shift to the bullpen to keep them from being subject to waivers.

Contreras has shown some encouraging signs, but it hasn’t translated to desired results. He has a 6.75 ERA through 6.2 innings pitched so far this spring. He’s allowed nine hits, has walked four and has only struck out one.

Falter, meanwhile, has allowed as many earned runs (six) as innings pitched. He’s also been knocked around with 11 hits against him.

Josh Fleming has starter experience, too, but most of his recent work has come in a variety of roles. The left-hander has allowed four runs on eight hits in 5.2 innings so far this spring.

Non-roster invitee Chase Anderson could be another candidate for the bullpen. He sealed Friday’s victory over the Minnesota Twins by covering the final two innings.

’23 ROOKIES LOOKING FOR MORE

A trio of pitchers who made their major-league debuts last season appear to be in the thick of things.

Of the three, left-hander Jose Hernandez has the most experience. Last offseason’s rule-5 draft pick made 50 relief appearances for the Pittsburgh Pirates last season. Control has been an issue for Hernandez this spring (6 walks in four innings pitched). But, he’s allowed just one run on two hits and has struck out seven.

Right-handers Colin Selby and Kyle Nicolas also made their big-league debuts last season with 21 and four appearances, respectively. Selby has allowed five runs on two homers in three innings pitched this spring. Nicolas has an 11.25 ERA through his first four appearances.

NRI’S WITH A SHOT

In addition to those players on the roster, along with Anderson, who was already mentioned, there are other non-roster invitees who might have a chance.

These players include — Brent Honeywell Jr. (6.23 spring training ERA), Ryder Ryan (3.00), Hunter Stratton (0.00), Michael Plassmeyer (0.00) and Wily Peralta (0.00).

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