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Perrotto: Pirates’ Expected Strength Indeed Now a Strength

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Pittsburgh Pirates, David Bednar, Yasmani Grandal

PITTSBURGH — Mitch Keller was the star of the game on Friday night and rightfully so.

Keller pitched six scoreless innings to win his sixth consecutive start as the Pittsburgh Pirates shut out the Minnesota Twins 3-0 at PNC Park. Keller became the first Pirates pitcher to win six straight starts since Gerrit Cole in 2015 and has a 1.13 ERA during that stretch.

However, how the Pirates ended the evening was especially encouraging. Aroldis Chapman pitched a perfect seventh inning and Colin Holderman had a 1-2-3 eighth before David Bednar worked around a one-out single in the ninth to earn his 13th save in 16 chances and complete the eight-hit shutout.

That was exactly how the Pirates drew it up before spring training began. Get a quality start then have Chapman, Holderman and Bednar shut the door in the last three innings.

“Without a doubt,” Bednar said. “This is what we expected to do. And what a great start by Mitchy. And then hand the ball off to Chappy and Holdy and finishing the job today was huge. Just passing the baton.”

However, this is the first time all season that the Pirates have had all three pitching effectively at once. Bednar and Holderman both had an abbreviated spring training because of injuries and Chapman has had spells where he has struggled with the control and command of pitches.

Bednar was limited to just two Grapefruit League appearances during the final three days of spring training because of a strained lat muscle. An All-Star each of the previous two years, Bednar struggled to find that same form in the early part of the regular season.

Bednar blew three of his first four save opportunities. He has since converted 12 chances in a row since April 9, the day he was booed by the PNC Park crowd during a loss to the Detroit Tigers.

In his first 13 appearances through May 1, Bednar had an 11.45 ERA. However, he has surrendered just two runs since then in 16 games and 15.1 innings, lowering his ERA to 5.47.

“He had a really abbreviated spring training,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “We started him in the big leagues. He wasn’t available opening day and he had spring training at the major-league level, and we saw him stumble a little bit or be kind of un-Bednarlike with the execution of the fastball. Now we’re seeing the execution of the fastball. I think we’re just seeing the guy that, the health of the guy that we saw and he had to work his way kind of back into that.”

Holderman had an even rougher spring training. He missed the last two weeks of Grapefruit League play after catching a virus that caused him to be hospitalized and lose 17 pounds.

Holderman started the season on the injured list and didn’t join the Pirates until after making four rehab appearances with Triple-A Indianapolis. However, Holderman has been outstanding since making his season debut on April 11 as he has a 0.87 ERA in 22 games.

Chapman has finally started to pitch to the form that has made him a seven-time All-Star. He has allowed one run in five innings over his last five appearances to drop his ERA to 4.43. The 36-year-old’s fastball was clocked at 104 mph this week.

“Whenever I leave the game with the lead, I feel like it’s a guaranteed win with the guys that we have and the stuff that they have and the stuff we know they’re capable of doing,” Keller said.

The backend of the bullpen is now actually doing that, and the Pirates suddenly look more dangerous than their 30-33 record suggests.

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