Despite Sunday's extra inning woes, the Pittsburgh Pirates bullpen is off to a strong start this season
The expectations for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2023 were pretty low, as one can understand after coming off of consecutive 100-loss seasons. However, the first 16 games have shown the Pirates to be a scrappy, resilient group that is off to a decent 9-7 start despite Wil Crowe blowing a one-run lead in the 10th against the St. Louis Cardinals today. The Pirates fell, 5-4.
Obviously, there is a long way to go in the 2023 season, but there is some excitement about the fact that Pittsburgh is two games over .500 and were three before Sunday afternoon's defeat in a game that they easily could have won.
The good start by the Pittsburgh Pirates is more impressive considering the number of injuries that they have endured, not the least of which was the fractured ankle suffered by phenom Oneil Cruz last week.
Add starting pitcher J.T. Brubaker to that list. Brubaker was off to a great start in spring training before being lost to Tommy John surgery, which may cost him two full seasons.
Short-term injuries to first baseman Ji Man Choi, catcher Austin Hedges, and relief pitchers Robert Stephenson and Rob Zastryzny, although Hedges and Stephenson have returned to the team, have also added to Pittsburgh's early season roadblocks.
So, how is this young group still winning? One of the first places one might look is the strong performance of the bullpen to start the season.
For example, Duane Underwood, Jr. has been surprisingly consistent manning the 7th-inning role. Underwood has had only two bad outings in his eight appearances when he gave up two runs in separate appearances against the Chicago White Sox on April 8 and against the St. Louis Cardinals on April 14.
Colin Holderman has earned the first syllable in his name as he has been perfect thus far in 2023. HOLDerman has held down the 8th-inning by allowing seven hits and zero runs in his eight appearances this season.
Of course, there is 2022 All-Star closer David Bednar, who has picked up where he left off by winning two games and saving four in his seven appearances in 2023. The one blemish on Bednar's record was on Tuesday against Houston where he allowed the Astros to score twice to tie the game, although only one of the runs was earned.
That performance can be forgiven, one would think, because it lead to Ji Hwan Bae's walk-off three-run blast to defeat Houston, 7-4, which only added to the early-season excitement surrounding the Buccos.
Aside from the three foundation relievers mentioned, Rule 5 acquisition Jose Hernandez has an ERA of only 1.42 in five appearances. Until Zastryzny returns, Hernandez is the only left-hander in the Pirates bullpen.
One more solid contribution has come from Dauri Moreta, an emotion-charged right-hander that the Pirates acquired from the Cincinnati Reds in the off-season in exchange for shortstop Kevin Newman. Moreta has been perfect in his eight appearances aside from allowing three runs in 1/3 of an inning against the Houston Astros on Wednesday.
As mentioned, the Pirates' bullpen is lacking left-handed pitching despite the contributions of Hernandez and Zastryzny, who himself has shown flashes of brilliance coupled with disappointing outings, which have contributed to his 7.94 ERA before heading to the IL on Saturday.
Pittsburgh addressed this situation in free agency when they signed former San Francisco reliever Jarlin Garcia, but an injury to a nerve in his pitching arm and won't be available for an undetermined length of time. Garcia is currently on the 60-day IL with no update as to when he will return.
If Pittsburgh wants to rectify their lack of left-handed bullpen help, it is most likely too early to work a trade and there aren't any left in free agency, so the next logical step is to promote from within. The question is what do we have in Indianapolis?
Indianapolis currently has four left-handers on the active roster. Those are Cam Alldred, Kent Emanuel, Angel Perdomo, and Daniel Zamora, all of whom have varying degrees of major league experience.
Cam Alldred has been in the Pirates' system since signing in 2018. The major league experience for Alldred consists of one appearance in Pittsburgh last year where he gave up one hit and no runs in his one inning. This season for Indianapolis, Alldred has appeared in four games and has a record of 1-0 with a 2.16 ERA and ten strikeouts.
Kent Emanuel appeared in ten games for the Houston Astros in 2021 and had a record of 1-0 with a 2.55 ERA. In two games with Indianapolis thus far, Emanuel has no record nor ERA and has five strikeouts.
Angel Perdomo signed with Pittsburgh as a non-roster invitee back in February and had appeared in 22 games with the Milwaukee Brewers. Perdomo had a 1-0 record with an 8.24 ERA, while this season, he has a 6.35 ERA in seven appearances in Indianapolis with one loss and one save.
The most experienced left-hander in the Pirates' system is Daniel Zamora, who pitched in 37 games for both the New York Mets and Seattle Mariners. Zamora has a career 3-1 record with a 4.50 ERA as a major leaguer, while accruing a 2-1 record thus far with Indianapolis and has a 3.60 ERA and eight strikeouts in six appearances.