Diary of a long-suffering Pirates fan: Ummm, anyone else worried about the bullpen?

Should we worry that injuries and performance issues will spill over into the regular season?
Pittsburgh Pirates v San Diego Padres
Pittsburgh Pirates v San Diego Padres / Denis Poroy/GettyImages
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A few weeks ago, my colleague Nicholas Caporoso wrote an excellent article about the Pirates' attempts to build depth in the bullpen during the offseason to guard against potential injuries that might crop up during the long season. To that end, the Pirates signed Aroldis Chapman to a one-year contract and brought in a handful of non-roster invitees to compete for openings in the back end of the bullpen.

With most of the pitchers who contributed to last year's successful bullpen returning, and with the Chapman addition in the offseason, the bullpen was predicted to be a strength of the Pirates team entering 2024.

But here we are only a few weeks away from the start of the regular season and suddenly the bullpen has quite a few question marks. Some of those question marks are injury related, and some of them are performance related.

Pirates closer David Bednar tops the list of question marks. He has not yet pitched in a Spring Training game this year. He is said to be dealing with a lat injury. The Pirates are indicating that it is nothing to be concerned about. Just something that needs some time to heal. He is said to be close to returning to the mound. In the meantime, we fans are left to speculate, "Is there enough time left in Spring Training for Bednar to be ready for Opening Day?"

The Pirates will also enter the 2024 season without Dauri Moreta, who is dealing with an elbow injury. The full extent of the injury is not yet known, but the Pirates are indicating that Moreta will likely miss significant time in 2024, if not the entire season.

Thankfully, the Pirates have some depth in the bullpen. And if Bednar and Moreta cannot go, the Pirates hope that Ryan Borucki, Colin Holderman, Aroldis Chapman, and Carmen Mlodzinski can hold down the fort.

While this is seemingly a good plan on paper, as these relievers all had strong seasons in 2023, the Spring Training performances thus far are hinting that there could be problems.

While Chapman seems to be pitching fine, other relievers are not:

Borucki's ERA is 5.06, Holderman's ERA is 14.73, and Mlodzinski's ERA is 9.64.

Of course the argument can be made that these numbers are a product of small sample sizes. Nothing to be concerned about yet. Perhaps.

One of the curious things about the Pirates over their many years of futility is that, no matter how bad they were, they usually had a decent bullpen. It has been poor offense and poor starting pitching that usually derails a Pirates' season. But now, just as the Pirates seem to be turning a corner with their offense, questions are looming with the bullpen.

Hopefully this turns out simply to be the rantings of a worry wart. The return of a healthy Bednar to the mound should seemingly solve the bullpen woes we've seen in Spring Training. Hopefully, what is afflicting Borucki, Holderman and Mlodzinski is nothing more than a small sample size of work.

But we long-time Pirates fans are conditioned to expect the worst when performance issues pop up.

After all, one could argue that most of the last 44 years have been one big performance issue after another. So when a player has a bad performance, the reaction is, "Uh, oh. Here we go again."

So forgive me if sounding the alarm on the bullpen proves to be premature. And here's hoping that these bad performances in Spring Training turn out to be meaningless.