From players testing positive for the coronaviurs, opting out of the season and not having worked out with the team yet, there appears to be additionally opportunities to be seized in the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen
Earlier this week, we took a look at the potential Opening Day bullpen for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Well, since this was written there has been some news that has come out about the bullpen. In turn, this has created some additional uncertainty about what the ‘pen will look like come July 24.
Wednesday even, Pirate manager Derek Shelton told reporters that closer Keone Kela has not worked out with the team at all yet. While Shelton would not divulge any further into why the closer to be for the Pittsburgh Pirates has not been there, the absence of Kela would open up a bullpen spot and create opportunity.
One player that would appear to be in a position to benefit from this is right-handed relief pitching prospect Blake Cederlind. However, earlier in the week we learned that Cederlind tested positive for the coronavirus. Due to this, it appears unlikely that Cederlind will be ready for Opening Day.
Another player that could potentially benefit would be veteran righty Hector Noesi who the Pittsburgh Pirates added via a minor league free agent contract in the offseason. But in addition to the Kela news, Shelton also told reporters on Wednesday that Noesi has chosen to opt out of the 2020 season due to family reasons.
So, who else is in position to potentially seize one of the open bullpen spots? Well, left-handed pitcher Sam Howard is a pitcher that could benefit from the uncertainty that has arose and could have an opportunity to be a member of the Opening Day bullpen.
Veteran Robbie Erlin, despite being a minor league signing, appears to be close to being a lock to be in the Opening Day bullpen. This would make him the lone lefty in the bullpen for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Managers typically like to have at least two lefties in the bullpen, and with the season to start with expanded 30-man rosters, carrying a second lefty will be easy to do.
So, who could be that second lefty? This is where Howard comes into play.
The Pittsburgh Pirates claimed Howard off waivers back on October 30. Howard has pitched 23 innings at the MLB level. These 23 innings have come over the course of the past two seasons with the Colorado Rockies. While he has struggled to the tune of a 5.87 ERA, 6.16 FIP and 11.7% walk rate in these 23 innings of work, left-handed pitchers are always given plenty of opportunities to prove themselves due to left-handed pitchers always being in high demand. Additionally, his 22.7% strikeout rate these two seasons was good and his results did come in a small sample size, and while playing his home games at the most hitter friendly ballpark in all of MLB.
Howard is not just in the team’s 60-man player pool for the 2020 season, he is one of the players in Pittsburgh working out with the MLB club. With uncertainty starting arise and create extra opportunities in the Pirate bullpen, as well as the always high demand for left-handed relievers, Howard could find himself in a position to pounce on an opportunity to be a member of the Opening Day bullpen for the Pittsburgh Pirates.