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Perrotto: Pirates Counting on Carmen Mlodzinski is Not a Fantasy

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Carmen Mlodzinski, Pittsburgh Pirates

Carmen Mlodzinski has the look of someone who grew up in a vacation hotspot. He has the vibe, too.

The Pittsburgh Pirates reliever is a native of Hilton Head, S.C. Yes, the guy with the blonde surfer-style hair, admits life was good during his childhood.

“It was amazing,” Mlodzinski said recently at the Pirates’ spring training camp in Bradenton, Fla. “I definitely have a lot of gratefulness for my parents for raising us four (children) there. Being able to walk to the beach after school every day was pretty awesome. It was kind of like living a fantasy when I was growing up.”

Playing in the major leagues is also a fantasy for many kids. Mlodzinski realized that dream last year when he made his major-league debut on June 16 by pitching 1.1 innings against the Brewers in Milwaukee.

Mlodzinski gave up a home run to the second batter he faced, Joey Wiemer. However, things eventually got better and Mlodzinski had a fine rookie season.

In 35 games, including one appearance as an opener, he had a 3-3 record, one save and a sparkling 2.25 ERA. The Pirates converted Mlodzinski from a starter to a reliever in minor-league spring training last year and he adjusted rather seamlessly.

Mlodzinski also had a 3.04 ERA in 20 games with Triple-A Indianapolis before being called to the big leagues.

“I would say just in general I was happy with the year I had,” Mlodzinski said. “I made a lot of adjustments going into last season and sometimes with adjustments it’s an unknown, it’s a gray area. You hope that things are going to work out but there’s that risk that the adjustments might not work out and you’ve got to go back to the basics.

“Seeing some of the things I did in the offseason come to fruition during the season really made me happy.”

Mlodzinski changed the grip on his fastball and added a sweeper, America’s favorite new pitch. After watching him throw 26.2 innings at Indianapolis under the tutelage of pitching coach Dan Meyer, the Pirates deemed Mlodzinski ready for the major leagues.

The Pirates made Mlodzinski a reliever after he went 6-8 with a 4.78 ERA in 27 games (22 starts) for Double-A Altoona in 2022.

“I would say there were difficult parts of it,” Mlodzinski said of switching to relief. “I definitely experienced some ups and downs throughout the process, but I think what helped was the organization informing me early in (spring training) of what their plans were rather than in-season, so I wasn’t surprised. In talking to some of the guys in the locker room, I was able to find a routine that worked for me as a reliever.”

Mlodzinski is intriguing because he is still learning some of the finer points of pitching. Mlodzinski played almost exclusively as a shortstop in high school, but the University of South Carolina recruited him as a pitcher.

Mlodzinski pitched just 81.2 innings in three years with the Gamecocks from 2018-20. The final season was shortened because of the pandemic but the Pirates were so impressed that they selected him in the first round of that year’s amateur draft with the 31st pick.

“Everyone in this locker room knows that I’m always working on my mechanics,” Mlodzinski said. “I think last year, with a couple of years of pro ball under my belt, that I was able to recognize what I need to do with my body. I didn’t have a whole lot of pitching experience before coming into pro ball. Last year was when my body started connecting and I felt more like a pitcher instead of a thrower.”

Yet Mlodzinski has already emerged as a high-leverage reliever in a Pirates’ bullpen that could be one of the better ones in the major leagues.

That seems like a fantasy considering his experience level but it’s true, much like his childhood.

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