The Pittsburgh Pirates need to find another reliever who can help in high-leverage situations at the back end of their bullpen
Friday's disappointing loss against the New York Yankees showed a major flaw in the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen: they need a relief pitcher who can handle save situations other than David Bednar. The Pirates slotted in Colin Holderman to take the save for Friday's contest, as Bednar had worked overtime the last few games, and it went horribly wrong.
Holderman has now allowed 5 earned runs in 6 innings while handling the 9th. Even though he only allowed one run before that, a brutal collapse in the 9th for Holderman felt overdue. In his previous five innings pitched, Holderman had allowed six hits and a walk, which is a WHIP of 1.40. Holderman has now pitched in three save situations and has allowed 5 earned runs. In comparison, despite pitching 34.2 more innings in the 8th, he's allowed just 13 earned runs.
Even the best closing pitchers can't pitch every single save situation. Even in 2004, when Mariano Rivera saved the most games of his career at 53, two other pitchers received at least five save opportunities. Rivera's highest single-season ERA+ was 316 in 2008. He saved 39 games, but again, three other players received at least two save opportunities.
Going back to their 2013-2015 postseason runs, they always had someone else who could step up and save games if need be. In 2013, Mark Melancon even closed out 16 saves when Jason Grilli missed two weeks. Tony Watson only pitched 11 innings in the 9th between 2014-2015 when he took over as the primary 8th inning man, but allowed zero runs to score. Of course, when Watson was asked to pitch the 9th regularly in late 2016 and early 2017, he struggled, but when he was only asked to do it every so often, he was effective.
So what can the Pirates do to resolve this? At this point of the year, they can't really do anything except ride it out. The best thing they can do with the time they have remaining is try someone else when Bednar isn't available, aside from Holderman. Carmen Mlodzinski has been great this year in the 7th. Going into Friday's game, the right-handed rookie reliever had a 1.50 ERA, 3.51 FIP, and 1.33 WHIP when taking the rock for the 7th. Opponents have just seven hits (one homer), but 10 strikeouts and just one walk against Mlodzinski in high leverage.
But going into the off-season, there are some free agents I'd put on their radar that might help solve this issue. Jordan Hicks, Joe Jimenez, and Reynaldo Lopez are a couple of names who have received a handful of save opportunities in their recent history and have been relatively effective.
Whatever course of action the Pirates take, they need another reliever they can slot into save situations when it's required. The best closing pitchers in history couldn't pitch every single close game. Plus, there are going to be instances where extra inning and late/close situations occur where Bednar will need to come in, either an inning early or an inning late. Bullpen depth was a question regarding this team going into the year, but the bigger issue is not having another reliable option who can occasionally fill in for The Renegade.