What a difference a year can make.
This time last year, Ryan Borucki was a couple weeks removed from signing a minor league deal with the Chicago Cubs. He was ramping up to try and earn a spot on the Cubs’ opening day roster as a non-roster invitee to spring training.
It was a decent spring for the left-hander, who posted a 3.52 ERA across seven appearances. Ultimately, Borucki failed to crack Chicago’s initial roster.
The Cubs ended up selected Borucki’s contract from Triple-A at the end of April, but he never appeared in a game and was designated for assignment shortly thereafter. After eventually electing free agency, he latched on with the Pittsburgh Pirates on a minor league deal.
Borucki began his Pirates’ tenure in the minor leagues. A little over a month after he signed with Pittsburgh, the Pirates selected his contract from Triple-A Indianapolis. He remained with the Pirates through the end of the season after pitching brilliantly.
“I feel like the Pirates got me back on track to what I always believed I was,” Borucki said at PiratesFest at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center. “I kind of lost my way for a couple seasons and was trying to figure it out on my own. Justy really bought in. I got here and it’s been great, just being able to sign here early and not have to worry about it.”
Borucki certainly got back on track in the black and gold. In 38 appearances for the Pirates last season, Borucki was a perfect 4-0 with a 2.45 ERA. Opponents hit just .183 against him and he limited batters to a minuscule .544 OPS against.
He became the top left-handed option out of the bullpen for manager Derek Shelton and was often used in higher-leverage situations, regardless of righty/lefty matchups.
“I pitched a lot, but as a reliever that’s what you want. You want to be out there all the time just taking the ball as much as you can. That’s how you just stay in your groove,” he said. “When I was in other organizations, I wouldn’t pitch as much and it’s hard to get into a groove.
“Last year, I felt like once I earned Shelty’s trust, he really got me out there a lot and it made it really easy for me to get in a groove and stay sharp. That was the biggest thing. It was awesome to be able to be out there all the time competing.”
The 30-year-old did a little bit of everything last year for the Pirates. He pitched early in games, late in games, in low-leverage situations and at crucial points. He was even used as an opener twice.
Borucki says it doesn’t matter how he’s utilized as long as he’s getting the ball.
“For me, however they want me to play, I’m always there. I’m not gonna let my ego get ahead and be like, ‘Oh no. I gotta be the seventh inning guy.’ If you need me to open, I’ll open. If you need me to pitch in the eighth, I’ll pitch in the eighth.”
Though so much has changed for Borucki over the past year, he’s not getting complacent. Borucki went from having a slim chance on the Cubs’ 2023 opening day roster to being a virtual lock to break camp with the Pirates.
Even though he again projects to be the Pirates’ top lefty option out of the bullpen, there’s still a fire burning within him. The focus now is getting ready for camp and looking to replicate, if not improve upon, last year’s showing.
“It’s one of those years where it’s like, ‘OK, I had a good year, but can I solidify myself as a guy that can really do it again and continue to do it going forward?’ I just use it as motivation. I finally showed everybody what I can really do. Now, let’s make it not look like it was a fluke.”