On a day when the Pirates received some bad news on the pitching front, JT Brubaker gave the team a bit of a shot in the arm Wednesday with five solid innings in a 6-3 win over the Atlanta Braves at LECOM Park in Bradenton.
The club, now 12-10 in Grapefruit League play after its fourth straight win, announced prior to the game that left-hander Steven Brault, who figured to be entrenched in the starting rotation, would be sidelined approximately 2 ½ months with a moderate left lat muscle strain.
Brault was coming off a solid 2020 season in which he put together a 3.38 ERA in 11 games, 10 of which were starts. The southpaw will not throw for a month, and Todd Tomczyk, the Pirates’ director of sports medicine, estimated it would be about 10 weeks before Brault could return to full competition.
According to Alyson Footer of MLB.com, Tomczyk said Brault has had to go through a lengthy rehab earlier in his career “and he’s come back even stronger. And I know that’s where his mindset is right now.”
Tomczyk also reported that reliever Blake Cederlind underwent surgery Tuesday to repair his torn UCL, a procedure that is expected to sideline him for about 15 months.
Brault’s absence opens up a spot in the rotation, which at this point figures to include Mitch Keller, Chad Kuhl, Tyler Anderson and Brubaker at the start. Trevor Cahill is also a potential starter, although it’s not known if he’ll be stretched out enough to start at the outset.
Wil Crowe is another possibility along with Cody Ponce. Miguel Yajure, one of the pieces obtained from the Yankees in the Jameson Taillon trade, also could get a look although he was optioned to the minor leagues Wednesday along with six other players.
One of those players was Cole Tucker, who entered spring training in a three-way competition for the starting shortstop job with Kevin Newman and Erik Gonzalez. But Tucker, who has had trouble hitting in his previous big league shots, continued to struggle in the spring, hitting just .211/.266/.361 in 23 at-bats.
Newman, meanwhile, has been on fire at the plate – he’s 16-for-22 so far in Grapefruit League play — and looks to be the winner of the shortstop competition. Gonzalez is solid defensively and can handle both positions up the middle as well as third, and he has no minor league options. Tucker does, and so he’ll be off to Indianapolis, at least at the outset.
Brubaker, meanwhile, isn’t going anywhere. If it wasn’t for Atlanta’s Austin Riley, who took Brubaker deep twice and drove in all three of the Braves’ runs, the right-hander would have had an outstanding outing. As it was, he went five innings and gave up three hits and one walk while striking out six.
Brubaker had no complaints, saying that the big takeaway was his ability to throw strikes. “I was attacking with all my pitches,” he told AT&T SportsNet’s Robby Incmikoski after leaving the game. “I feel confident – I made them swing the bat and got ahead. I felt real confident coming out of these five innings.”
Brubaker said he still needs to build up his stamina and will continue to work on that. He said it’s important to be able to work five or six quality innings – “not go out and feel good for three and then get a little tired.”
The Braves got the jump in the first inning off Brubaker as Riley sent a 1-2 pitch over the center field fence for a solo homer.
The Pirates pulled even in the third when Adam Frazier homered for the second time this spring, but Riley’s two-run bomb in the fourth made it 3-1 Braves.
The Pirates went ahead 4-3 in the sixth off starter Ian Anderson on Bryan Reynolds’ RBI single, Gregory Polanco’s run-scoring double and Newman’s sacrifice fly.
The Bucs added two more runs in the eighth on Nick Gonzales’ solo homer and Wilmer Difo’s RBI single.
The Pirates pounded out 14 hits in all, with Newman and Ke’Bryan Hayes leading the way with two hits each. Several news outlets, including the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, reported Wednesday that Hayes turned down the Pirates’ offer of a contract extension. MLB Network’s Jon Heyman was the first to report the extension offer.