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The Pirates’ bullpen is no joke

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MLB: Kansas City Royals at Pittsburgh Pirates
No one laughs at this guy.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

As I write this, the Pirates are one game over .500.

Yes, the Pirates. The team that was last at .500 in 2019. May 31st, to be exact.

As of late, when the Bucs get mentioned in national media they’re almost always the punchline. Not lately, though—and they have their bullpen to thank for that.

Here, let Joe Block lay it out for you:

Have anything to add about last night’s 2-1 win over the Royals, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Jason Mackey?

Duane Underwood Jr., Sam Howard and Richard Rodriguez needed just 30 pitches to complete the seventh, eighth and ninth innings.

Remember when a Pirate reliever coming in used to scare us? Now they’re scaring who they’re supposed to scare—opposing batters. Granted, Sam Howard gave up a single to Carlos Santana (not the guitarist) in the eighth inning last night, but it was bookended by lineouts. The relievers started with a swinging strikeout—Duane Underwood Jr. whiffing Michael A. Taylor—and ended with a swinging strikeout—Richard Rodriguez whiffing ... Michael A. Taylor. Baseball-Reference.com doesn’t lie.

Pirates fans have been jittery about pitching, and most of the Bucs’ starting arms have given them good reason. Now, it seems that whoever comes in to replace the starter gets a thumbs-up. We groaned when the Pirates got Underwood, that guy who throws a changeup most of the time. A changeup that’s only gotten hit once this season. “Howard gave up a hit,” we said. Yes, the guy with a 1.80 ERA was the weak link last night.

And RichRod? He’s so good that people are picking him up for their fantasy leagues.

People want a Pirates pitcher in fantasy.

As always, I stand by my early-in-the-season mantra, “dude, it’s April.” However, I agree with my colleague Jeremy Brener when he says “Times are fun in the ‘Burgh right now.” It doesn’t seem to matter who comes in when, other than RichRod in the ninth. Kyle Crick, Chris Stratton, Phil Evans ... you get the idea. Others analyze the numbers far better than I do.

I can point to one thing, though—confidence. It’s visible through the whole team, but most notably in the relief staff. When a reliever comes out, he doesn’t have that look on his face that we’ve seen so often on the faces of the Bucs’ bullpen guys. You know the one—”great. Thanks for leaving me this mess.” He comes out like “I got this. Tie game? One run lead? No problem, I’ll get you three outs.” And he does.

We’ve seen good arms come. More often, we’ve seen good arms go. The Pirates’ starting pitching is still somewhat on the iffy side. As the kids say, that bullpen tho. Oscar Marin got a full spring training in with these guys, and if the bullpen’s confidence starts rubbing off on the starters other than Anderson ...

MLB: Kansas City Royals at Pittsburgh Pirates
... we’ll be seeing this a lot.
Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports