The Pirates Pen Stumbles, But Holds On For The Win

9-15-21 By Craig W. Toth (aka @bucsbasement on Twitter)

In every other Major League Baseball season, prior to the pandemic shortened one in 2020, September games seemed like they were filled with overflowing bullpens-lined with arms eager to prove themselves after having spent all summer on buses traveling all over God’s Green Earth-and batters on the dugout steps, anxiously waiting for the manager to give them a nod to grab a bat, glove or even just a helmet to pinch run. This was back when the Minor League regular season ended at the turn of the month, and rosters had the ability to expand to anyone that was on the team’s 40-Man Roster; although it was still probably only a handful of guys or so who would end up getting the promotion. However, a handful of guys is sure a heck of a lot better than the extra two they are permitted under the new roster restrictions; at least as far as player availability is concerned.

For the Pirates these two additional players has equaled arms to replace injuries arms; consisting 30 year reclamation project and a consistent churning of pitchers with options back and forth between Indianapolis and Pittsburgh, as well as waiver wire additions that instantaneously find themselves on the Big League Club. As the roster currently stands, the Pirates have four that are designated as starters, with a ridiculous twelve man bullpen. Of these sixteen pitchers, practically none have provided this team with consistently solid performances while on the active roster; yet the decision needs to be made of the most effective one to use in each given situation that arises during a given game; also taking into account some circumstances that are beyond anyone’s control.

Last night the Pirates started a stretch of thirteen games in thirteen days with this motley crew of pitchers; including a couple that were recently acquired straight from the waiver wire, two starters that are on a hard pitch count, a Rule 5 Draft Pick that they have worked all season to hide, a once touted ace that either throws a gem or is pulled after a couple of innings and a mix of veterans and inexperienced arms to round out the bunch.

Luckily for the Pirates, discarded starter Dillon Peters was able continue his new found success by tossing five scoreless on 80 pitches; because as you remember Peters just recently returned from a 10 day stint on the IL with a lower back strain. Sure, you could get all analytical and look at Peters limited stats when facing the order the third time through, but honestly it is just easier to look at a pitch count that no one other than the showcased trade piece Tyler Anderson was regularly allowed to exceed a predetermined ceiling.

Enter Nick Mears to pitch the top of the 6th, with a 6-0 cushion.

Unfortunately, things did not go as planned , as it pertained to maintaining a comfortable lead. However, how are we as fans to know exactly what the plan was for the young reliever entering the game, while still keeping in mind the four inning left in this game; plus the minimum of 98 innings still to come in the next two weeks before they get a break. Sometimes pitchers are told that this is their inning; even taking into consideration that things may not go well; which in the case of Mears they didn’t.

In the top of the 6th Mears faced nine Cincinnati Reds, threw 32 pitches and gave up four runs. Obviously not ideal. Yet, did any of you see him laboring at any point, was he struggling to find the strike zone or being hit extremely hard? Of course you didn’t, because none of these things happened. The Reds dinked, dunked and grounded out, on their way to these four runs. However to some, Manager Derek Shelton was actively trying to lose the game.

To me, I would legitimately want to know how anyone would have handled this situation differently; giving every other detail already mentioned about the limited expanded roster, the tossed together bullpen and the number of innings that have to be covered in the upcoming days equal attention.

Certainly, some of you will get your wish to have Mears jettisoned of the roster due to his performance, or maybe even Derek Shelton fired at some point before the Pirates hopefully become competitive; nevertheless, the former is more likely to happen, not because of a bad outing, but due to him having Minor League options. The later, well that has yet to be determined. Let’s say we revisit that conversation when he starts to have that competitive team.

News and Notes

  • Dillon Peters had his pitches really working for him; generating ten whiffs on his changeup alone. Obviously an extreme small sample size, but a 2.66 ERA and a 1.27 WHIP in five starts with the Pirates has been a welcome surprise.
  • Prior to Chasen Shreve entering the game, I saw what has become a pretty normal reaction on Pirates Social media, about not really wanting to see this guy anymore. Huh, that’s fairly surprising for a guy that has a 2.77 ERA and a 1.25 WHIP in 49 appearances.
  • Prior to the game Rookie “Closer” David Bednar was placed on the 10-Day IL (retroactive to September 11th) with a right oblique strain. Curious to see if any Pirates Fans want to take back their comments about realistically wanting to overwork Bednar in meaningless games.
  • The Pirates singled, and in Jacob Stallings’ case doubled their way to six runs off of Reds starter Wade Miley. 6 for 12 with runners in scoring position hasn’t been the norm, yet it was nice to see.
  • Kevin Newman is currently on a seven game hitting streak, but more importantly is slashing .263/.293/.442 over his last 30 games. I get that this isn’t overly impressive; however, with his new found defensive prowess, this has the possibilities of making him a productive player for the Pirates for at least a couple more years.

The Pirates and Reds will be back at it from PNC Park at 6:35 PM EST tonight.

For Pittsburgh, Mitch Keller (4-11, 6.29 ERA) will take the mound against Vladimir Guitierrez (9-6, 4.05 ERA) for Cincinnati.

Published by Craig W. Toth

Former Contributing Author at, Co-Host of the Bucs in the Basement Podcast and life-long/diehard Pittsburgh Pirates Fan!

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