Pirates Making Effective Use of Non-Traditional Pitching Staff

Photo courtesy of MLB.com

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The Pittsburgh Pirates are showing early on that nobody's spot in the starting rotation is safe.  In just 23 games played so far, two of their original starters are now filling a long relief role out of the bullpen.  While it hasn't resulted in many wins on the record book, it has shown improvement with both Bryse Wilson and Zach Thompson so far.

We first saw this approach on April 27th when the Pirates took on the dreaded Milwaukee Brewers.  The Brewers have owned the Pirates this season, but on this particularly night the Pirate pitching performed very well.

Dillon Peters, excuse me, sorry. Best pitcher in the league - Dillon Peters - served as an opener that night.  Peters is a former starter-turned-reliever, and has been brilliant this season. He pitched the first two innings of the game for the Pirates and, of course, gave up no runs.  He was then pulled for Bryse Wilson.  

Wilson had been struggling in the starter role up to that point.  He had a 6.35 ERA and a .286 batting average against in three starts to begin 2022.  It was clear he was picking up right where he left off 2021.  He only had four of his 16 starts in 2021 result in quality starts.

However, on April 27th, Wilson stepped into that long relief role after Peters' opening and excelled.  He pitched four innings, giving up just one hit and struck out four.  This against a Brewers lineup that looked rather formidable, especially against the Pirates, to this point.  It was pretty clear Wilson settled into the role nicely.

This happened again just yesterday for the first game of the doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers.  Peters started the game, went 3.1 scoreless innings (obviously), and then gave way to Wilson as the long relief option.  While Wilson, again, pitched very well in that role, his fielders did not have his back.  Wilson ended up giving up three runs, all unearned, but only two hits and a walk on the afternoon.  He also struck out six.  

This Peters opening and then giving way to Wilson strategy has set up the Pirates for two wins so far.  Unfortunately, the Pirates have converted neither into wins because they have deficiencies elsewhere.  However, this is not indicative of how well Peters and Wilson have acclimated to these new roles.

In the 2nd game of yesterday's double header we saw another struggling starter take on a relief role.  This time it was Jose Quintana giving way to Zach Thompson.  Thompson has been nothing short of terrible early on this season with a 9.39 ERA and a 2.22 WHIP.  He is not the 3rd or 4th starter the Pirates were hoping for, and would not have made most major league rosters out of Spring Training.

However, major league-ready pitching depth is shallow in the Pirates organization right now so Thompson got a starting spot out of camp.  It would appear after yesterday he may have already lost it.  Thompson did not serve in a long relief role, but he did come in to relieve Quintana.

Thompson pitched one inning, walked one batter, gave up a hit, but kept the inning scoreless.  He didn't look great, and not nearly as comfortable as Wilson has as a reliever, but a scoreless inning is a scoreless inning.  It's more than what we can say for most of Thompson's innings as a Pirate so far.

The Pirates have so many pitchers now that can pitch multiple innings in relief, that they are using it to their advantage.  I haven't even mentioned Wil Crowe yet.  He is also a former starter who has thrived in the Pirates bullpen so far this season, much like Peters.  The only previous starter it hasn't worked for is Miguel Yajure, but I'd like to see him resume in a starting role anyway.

Hopefully these new roles will continue to bring success for Dillon Peters, Wil Crowe, and Bryse Wilson, and will spark some more for Thompson.  I like the Pirates modifying and experimenting with some things this season when it appears they will do nothing more than 4th or 5th place in the division.  If anything, maybe this opens up a spot in the rotation for Roansy Contreras.  He deserves to be in the majors and I sure would like to see him sooner rather than later.

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