Williams: Do the Pirates Have the Makings of a Shutdown Bullpen?

We watch sports because they give us the chance to witness something unexpected.

The quickest way this happens in baseball is with a home run. There is no spectacle in sports greater than a 96 MPH pitch being turn on and launched into a sea of fans who are instantly sucked into reality with the realization that a 100+ MPH exit velocity missile is heading for their face — and if they’re lucky, they could catch it.

We watch individual games to catch the individual moments that draw us instinctively to our feet.

My favorite unexpected thing is watching a player establish himself in the majors over many games.

It starts with one good performance in one big moment.

Then, it happens again.

Once it happens a third time, questions tend to start getting asked as to how many times this level of play could continue to take place.

The Pirates are going with a lot of unestablished players in their major league bullpen this year. A few of those players have opened the season with strong performances in big moments.

Dauri Moreta has been used in three different wins in a very specific role. Each time, Moreta has been brought in to get the last out of an inning for a starter. Each time, Moreta has entered with men on base. Each time, he’s gotten a strikeout to end the inning. Last night, Moreta got two more outs in the following inning, before Rule 5 pick Jose Hernandez made his second scoreless appearance of the year with a strikeout.

At this point, when Moreta comes into a game to bail out a starter, I wouldn’t say that I will be comfortable that there will be a good outcome. I will say that I am excited every time now to watch him try to get that final out via strikeout, followed by an intense reaction. That’s the intensity that could translate to shutting games down in the final innings.

Speaking of the final innings, Colin Holderman picked up a hold again in his third time pitching in the eighth inning with a lead. Again, I wouldn’t be comfortable with good outcomes every time out based on this sample size. Holderman has the stuff to be a late inning reliever, and so far, he’s doing great in the role.

It was only two years ago that David Bednar was in a similar situation, and emerged as the reliable closer who picked up his third save last night. I do wonder the makeup of protecting a lead when Bednar needs rest. Time will hopefully reveal that answer with more Pirates victories to warrant the problem.

The Pirates opted to enter this season with several recently acquired options who have the chance to be the next Bednar. They added Moreta over the offseason in a trade for Kevin Newman. They acquired Holderman last year when they sent Daniel Vogelbach to the Mets at the trade deadline.

Bednar, of course, was one of five players who returned to the Pirates in the Joe Musgrove deal. That trade also brought back Endy Rodriguez, who came over from the Mets. That’s a fun little side note to think about when you read about Mets owner Steve Cohen talking about how the Mets are spending money while saving their prospects to create baseball asset value: Under Cohen, the Mets have traded Endy Rodriguez and Colin Holderman to the Pirates for Joey Lucchesi and Daniel Vogelbach. But, I digress.

It’s too early to say whether Holderman or Moreta can follow the path of Bednar. The positive shutdown results from each pitcher in the early part of the season is encouraging, and is making this bullpen fun to watch.

Dare I say, it also makes a Pirates lead a bit more comfortable and fun to watch.


**I wrote about the center field situation yesterday, focusing on the defensive side. A few people in the comments pointed out how the long-term solution is Travis Swaggerty. His defense in center is superior to Bryan Reynolds and Jack Suwinski, but his offense isn’t pushing either of them out of the big leagues. Swaggerty has missed time the last few seasons, and will need to show his bat is ready in Triple-A before being an option for center field in Pittsburgh. He has a .516 OPS in the young season for Indianapolis.

**Speaking of Reynolds, how about him continuing with the power display in last night’s win over Boston? He’s playing like a guy who should be extended. Last night was also a good game for Ji-Hwan Bae all-around, and a great start from Roansy Contreras.

**Anthony Murphy wrote about Tucupita Marcano’s hot start to the season in today’s P2Daily. I think it’s important to remember that Marcano just turned 23 years old. This is his third season in Triple-A, and he likely will spend time in the majors. In 204 at-bats across prior MLB appearances, he has a .545 OPS. He had a .791 OPS in Triple-A last year. Right now he’s a depth option, but he can play all over the field, and should reach the majors sooner than later if he keeps hitting.


The Pirates will have a lot of money to spend on amateur talent in the next year. Today it was announced they have the highest bonus pool in the 2023 draft, and will have the highest international bonus pool for the 2023-24 signing period.

John Dreker reported today about how the Pirates are favorites to sign a top pitching prospect from Panama, who is eligible to sign next January under the 2023-24 class.

We’ve got our minor league previews going up on the site tomorrow, ahead of the opening games for the rest of the farm system.


**Williams: I’ve Got It

In yesterday’s column, I wrote about the defensive play of Bryan Reynolds.

**First Pitch: What is SPEED?

I’ve been having fun writing this series on my view of the tools of baseball. I have a feeling that the formatting style of these articles is leading to the death of at least two Boomers per article. Just like with COVID, we all have to make sacrifices to keep the economy going. In this case, the economy is thinking about the game of baseball like a game of chess.

**Five Sleepers to Follow in the Pittsburgh Pirates System in 2023

Kicking off our minor league coverage, I gave five sleepers to follow in the Pirates’ system this year. Deep tracks only!

**Cody Bolton Amped-Up For Move to the Bullpen

Cody Bolton has moved to the bullpen as a full-time reliever in Indianapolis. Ryan Palencer talked with the right-hander, who was amped up about the new, consistent role.

Tim started Pirates Prospects in 2009 from his home in Virginia, which was 40 minutes from where Pedro Alvarez made his pro debut in Lynchburg. That year, the Lynchburg Hillcats won the Carolina League championship, and Pirates Prospects was born from Tim's reporting along the way. The site has grown over the years to include many more writers, and Tim has gone on to become a credentialed MLB reporter, producing Pirates Prospects each year, and will publish his 11th Prospect Guide this offseason. He has also served as the Pittsburgh Pirates correspondent for Baseball America since 2019. Behind the scenes, Tim is an avid music lover, and most of the money he gets paid to run this site goes to vinyl records.

Support Pirates Prospects

Related articles

join the discussion

Notify of
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

We use our best reliever in the 9th with no one on base. Best bullpens have a figurehead closer( who is good) and use their Bednar in the highest leverage situation.


Moreta is definitely fun to watch. I just wish he wouldn’t walk guys on before getting that strike out to end an inning…lol


I must confess, the Pirate bullpen certainly seems improved.


Crossing my fingers for quick return of Cederlind. I think he’ll def help improve bullpen


Shut down pen? short answer, no, long answer, hell no. Interested to know who comes off the 26 once Stephenson is ready.


Way too early for you to be so certain about things. Holderman, Moreta and Hernandez all have legitimate stuff and could prove you wrong very easily.

Or blow up.

But no one can say “hell no” at this stage and be remotely certain.


I just did!


Well, even with the same small sample size you are seeing, I will counter with a resounding Hell Yes!! You get no hrrrmph! from me 🙂


Moreta seems to be the only strike out pitcher and he’s walking a tight rope, there are no strike out guys, a bunch of contact guys, that will only work for so long. If Holderman stuff turns into result and Stephenson build on last year slider heavy success, then maybe we have an average pen.


I am daring to dream! Just hope I don’t wake up 🙂


I think Bednar is one of the best closers in baseball, and I have really liked what I have seen of Moreta. Outside that I am not sold on anyone.

Pirates Prospects Daily



Latest articles

Latest comments

Would love your thoughts, please comment.x