The bullpen is still scuffling
We will start with the negative to get it out of the way quickly.
Entering the season the bullpen was expected to be a strength for the Pittsburgh Pirates. A big reason for this was set up men Keone Kela and Richard Rodriguez. Well, over the weekend the early season struggles of both Kela and Rodriguez continued.
Kela’s lone appearance in the series came on Friday night. With the Bucs leading 3-2 in the bottom of the 8th inning Kela was given the ball. He retired three of the four batters he faced, but the lone base runner he allowed came in the form of a game-tying solo home run by Anthony Rendon.
In 5 2/3 innings pitched this season Kela has now issued three walks and he has allowed three home runs. In 2018, Kela allowed just five home runs all season (52 innings pitched).
As for Rodriguez, on Friday night he inherited a runner on third with just one out situation in the bottom of the 7th inning. He stranded the runner, and ran his scoreless outing streak up to five consecutive games. However, Saturday did not go as well for Rich Rod.
With Kela being given the day off, Rodriguez was tabbed to pitch the 8th inning with the Pirates leading 2-1. After retiring the first two batters of the inning Rodriguez allowed back-to-back home runs. This led to a 3-2 Nationals victory.
Like Kela, the home run ball has been an issue for Rodriguez this season. After allowing just five home runs in 69 1/3 innings pitched in 2018, Rodriguez has already been taken deep four times in 6 2/3 innings of work this season. Not coincidentally, the Pirates are 0-3 this season in games that Rodriguez has allowed a home run.
The bullpen can still be a strength for the Pirates. Closer Felipe Vazquez has looked as good as ever this season, and Nick Burdi is emerging as a high leverage situation option. Additionally, the team could get Kyle Crick back from the injured list as soon as Tuesday.
That said, the Bucs still need Kela and Rodriguez to get back on track. Especially Kela, who, when he is right, is a dominant reliever. There is a reason the team paid such a hefty price to acquire him from the Texas Rangers last July.