PITTSBURGH- Going into the 2023 season, the Pittsburgh Pirates seemed to have more questions than answers with their pitching staff.
Even though it’s still early into the season, the Pirates pitching staff has been an integral part of their success, and we may have some more answers than questions we had originally anticipated.
After a shaky start to his major league career, Mitch Keller looks primed to make a big push this year. Johan Oviedo has pushed into the conversation with his slider, and Roansy Contreras is learning how to pitch like a major leaguer and doing a rather good job at it.
I don’t think anyone would’ve anticipated the Pirates pitching staff to rattle off 11 straight quality starts, and do it rather easily. After talking to Pirates manager Derek Shelton, we may have an answer to why we’ve seen early success.
“From day one of spring training, Oscar and [Meccage] and [Radley] and [Bleich]and our pitching group, all they talked about was throwing strikes and going after people and throwing strikes,” said Shelton. “I may or may not have jumped in a conversation or two fairly firmly and said, ‘We better throw strikes.’ But, there was a consistent message.”
“If you want to look at 11 quality starts, you want to look at guys getting through six innings; you want to look at efficiency, you better throw the ball on the plate because you don’t have the opportunity. So, the fact that that was the message that our pitching group worked really hard on coming into the season, about how we were going to do it, how we were going to measure it, how we were going to communicate it, and then the fact that we put it in, that’s where the credit goes. The credit goes from, ‘Okay, this is what our message is, and then they took it to our pitching group, and they realized, our pitchers realized it was real, and that’s how it happened. So, that’s where the credit goes there.”
One of the biggest benefits a bullpen can have is starters giving them a day’s rest every once in a while, and the Pirates have done that so far.
In 2022, the Pirates had to overuse their pen, and that’s why we saw injuries to key guys like David Bednar, which put guys in a position they weren’t used to, like Wil Crowe, the closer.
These domino effects have been a cruel mistress to the Pirates during Shelton’s tenure, but we are now starting to see positive side effects.
“It’s really important that when you play close games, you end up using your leverage guys a little more. Maybe we flip it to score as many runs as possible, said Shelton on the starters giving the bullpen some rest. “But yeah, I think that’s an important part of it is how we’re able to use our leverage. But, it also comes back to the consistent message of throw the ball on the plate and trust your stuff.”
Eventually, I worked my way over to some key bullpen pieces for the Pirates to get their perspective on what this starting rotation has done for them so far.
“It means the world to us,” said Colin Holderman. “It helps the bullpen out a lot so we can stay fresh, which can help us in ballgames later in the year, and we don’t have something like 70 appearances in August. The starters are killing it, and we appreciate it greatly.”
Duane Underwoord Jr. gave his thoughts on the current Pirates starters and what these run of games means to him, and what it could mean later in the season.
“Having guys go at least six gives guys rest in the bullpen; it shortens the game, and it allows the skipper to make better decisions on what he has to do in the game. It makes pretty much everybody’s job easier; it keeps the flow of the game and it’s great for the team.”
This Pirates club seems to be on the right track to start making a push, and this pitching staff is a big reason why the team could be ready.