Kent Tekulve is arguably the best relief pitcher in the Pirates’ history. A dozen Teke’s of his 16 big league seasons were in black and gold, consistently being an absolute workhorse out of the bullpen. Tekulve, primarily a closing pitcher during his time in Pittsburgh, set an all-time record: the most innings pitched without making a single start.
Tekulve’s whopping 1436.2 innings pitched as a reliever. The all-time saves leader, and arguably the first person who comes to mind when you think of a relief pitcher, Mariano Rivera, including the 19 starts he made at the very start of his career, pitched 1283.2 innings across 19 seasons.
Tekulve wasn’t just a workhorse either, he was also extremely effective. He pitched to a 2.85 ERA (132 ERA+), 3.26 FIP, and 1.25 WHIP. Tekulve’s 13% strikeout rate was low, even for the era, but he had a respectable 8.2% walk rate and a 0.39 HR/9 rate. Tekulve led the league in games pitched on four separate occasions and pitched 100+ innings seven times.
Including his career innings count, Teke almost has another record to his name, that being the most games pitched in one year. Tekulve pitched in 91 games in 1979, and pitching to a 2.75 ERA (142 ERA+), 3.24 FIP, and 1.18 WHIP. Only Mike Marshall in 1974, who pitched in 106 games, outpaces Tekulve’s highest single-season mark.
It’s unlikely Tekulve’s record is broken. Relievers aren’t used in the same manner they were when Tekulve pitched. Even long relievers never get to 100 innings in a season without making a start. The current active leader in innings pitched without making a start is David Robertson, who is still over 600 innings short of Tekulve’s all-time total. The only way that it would be plausible to break his record was if a bulk man who came in after an opener pitched in that role for most, if not all of their career.