Pirates Pitchers Shine in World Baseball Classic

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I'm not sure how many of you are paying attention to the World Baseball Classic this year.  Personally, I have not, as March is firmly college basketball season in my house.  However, when I saw Pittsburgh Pirate, Roansy Contreras, was starting for the Dominican Republic against Israel last night, it peaked my interest.  Additionally, Luis Ortiz, who is battling for a spot in the Pirates rotation, also pitched for the DR.

Contreras had a 2.2 inning outing, throwing 41 pitches with 28 of them for strikes.  He gave up just one hit, no runs, and struck out four.  The numbers tell the tale just fine, but he looked dominant as well.  His off speed pitches were keeping the Israelis very off balance.  

Luis Ortiz had arguably an even more successful outing.  It took him just 23 pitches to get through two scoreless innings where he too gave up no runs.  Additionally he struck out three hitters while giving up no hits.  It was nice to see both Pirate youngsters shine on an international stage. 

Contreras is extremely important to the Pirates' success this season.   After becoming the youngest pitcher to start a game for the Pirates in over 17 years in 2021, Contreras started the 2022 season in Indianapolis. But he was quickly called up and with the big club by early April.  His first start of the 2022 season didn't happen until May 24th.  

It was a developmental year for Contreras with all of the ups and downs that go with that.  He had a couple outstanding starts among some real stinkers.  His main issue last season was how quickly his pitch count would rise.  Every 0-2 count seemed to turn into a 3-2 count time and time again.  Contreras' waste pitches were often truly waste pitches and not ones that hitter may hack at.  But, as said above, it was a developmental year for the youngster who will enter this season at just 23 years old.

However, this season needs to see Contreras take productive steps forward.  Regardless of where he ends up on the official depth chart, he is firmly the team's No. 2 starter in my mind.  Mitch Keller needs to emerge as the ace, but I hope Contreras is competing with him for the title all year.  Those two are among older, and much older, starters like JT Brubaker, Vince Velasquez, and Rich Hill.  So while those three may serve as innings eaters, it's Keller and Contreras who really need to step into their roles for the Pirates to see any success this season.

Now, hoping to take a spot in that rotation from one of the veterans is, the aforementioned, Luis Ortiz.  Ortiz is just 10 months older than Contreras, but even more green.  He did log four starts with the major league team last season, with three being decently successful.  

Ortiz came into his 4th start on October 1st with a 1.17 ERA in 15.1 IP and 17 strikeouts.  Unfortunately, he blew up against the St. Louis Cardinals, giving up six earned runs in 0.2 innings, which probably left a pretty sour taste in his mouth for most of the offseason.

From a pure fan standpoint, I'd much rather see Ortiz or even Johan Oviedo make the rotation before any of the three old guys mentioned above.  But I know from being a Pirates fans now for 29 years that probably isn't going to happen.  So let's just root for big steps taken by Contreras, and then Ortiz can take a spot in the rotation around July.  These guys are talented and we should be excited to watch them pitch for the Pirates this season.