Projecting the Pittsburgh Pirates Opening Day Bullpen
By Marty Leap
The other three bullpen spots
There are a few different names that could be in play here. Maybe young, talented arms such as Blake Cederlind, if he has recovered from the coronavirus, or Geoff Hartlieb should get the nod. But the safer bet would appear to be veteran minor league free agent signee Robbie Erlin, as well as righties Chad Kuhl and Richard Rodriguez.
Starting with Erlin, he can opt out of his contract if he is not on the Opening Day roster and the bullpen needs a lefty. Combine that with a 3.86 ERA, 3.33 FIP, 0.94 HR/9, 3.9% walk rate, and 21.1% strikeout rate in 114.1 career relief innings, and Erlin is a safe bet to make the cut.
Kuhl could still be competing for the final spot in the team’s starting rotation, but it appears that will go to Steven Brault, at least to start the season. But as Kuhl continues to work his way back from Tommy John Surgery, the team will want him pitching in games. With the minor leagues not being an option for that, look for Kuhl to be a long/swing man out of the bullpen to start the season. It would not be a surprise to see him starting games before the season ends.
Finally, there is Rodriguez. The last two seasons Rodriguez has pitched 135 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates logging 134.2 innings of work. After a spectacular season in 2018, Rodriguez struggled in 2019 as his FIP rose from 2.60 to 5.22, HR/9 from 0.65 to an alarming 1.93, walk rate from 6.8% to 8.1%, and his strikeout rate dropped from 31.5% to 22.1%. These struggles even led to him seeing some time at the Triple-A level.
Without expanded rosters, Rodriguez making the Opening Day bullpen likely was not a lock. Especially since he still has minor league options remaining. But with the expanded rosters to start the season, look for him to sneak into the Pirate ‘pen.