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Pirates 2022 Season Previews: Relief pitchers

Will this group be a strength of the team again?

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Pirates weren’t very good in most areas in 2021, but if there was an area that could be considered a strength, it was most likely the bullpen. It’s important to note that last year’s save leader Richard Rodriguez is no longer with the team. He was traded in July to the Atlanta Braves. Nonetheless, the bullpen is returning a lot of familiar names from last season.

The Main Names

Chris Stratton

The 30-year-old Stratton is one of the the most experienced arms in the bullpen, and the righty is a former first-round draft pick of the San Francisco Giants. He was second on the team last year in saves after Rodriguez, finishing with 8, and he racked up the most bullpen innings on the squad with 79.1. That could be the case again this coming season, with Stratton the most likely candidate to eat some big middle-to-late innings.

He was 7-1 last year with a 3.63 ERA, a 1.298 WHIP, and 3.76 FIP, got better in the second half of the year, and throws a good fastball and curve. Expect him to mainly serve as the set-up man to this next guy.

David Bednar

The local boy from Mars High School is coming off of a strong campaign and stands to be Pittsburgh’s primary closer as we head into the 2022 season. He had just 3 saves last year with Rodriguez and Stratton around, but the 27-year-old righty finished with 60 innings in as many appearances last year, racking up 77 strikeouts against just 19 walks to go along with a 2.34 ERA, a 0.973 WHIP and a 2.69 FIP, all good numbers.

He throws a hot fastball in the high 90s and is the logical choice to close things out this year for the Buccos.

He’s also a popular breakout pick for any of you fantasy baseball players out there, as he appears to be coming into his own after three Major League seasons and is Pittsburgh’s expected save leader. His save numbers are likely only to be limited by the amount of times Pittsburgh will actually be winning. We’re looking for good things this year from Bednar.

Sam Howard

The Pirates have few left-handed options in the bullpen, and that’s where Howard comes in. Despite starting the season off well, the 28-year-old finished with an ERA of 5.60, a WHIP of 1.487 and a FIP of 4.86. He has a good fastball and slider, which he used to strike out 60 batters in 45 innings last year, but 32 walks and 7 homers highlight his occasional issues with control.

This is likely a make or break year for Howard, and due to that and the lack of other available lefties, we’re likely to see a fair amount of him this year. Whether that’s a good or bad thing remains to be seen.

The Next Group

Heath Hembree

The newly acquired Hembree doesn’t yet have a solidified place in the pen, but the team didn’t sign the 33-year-old righty for no reason. He’ll likely serve as a set up man, and Jake gave you the details of his signing yesterday.

Dillon Peters

Is he a starter or is he a reliever? Peters very easily could begin the year in the starting rotation, as he started in all six of his appearances last year, but I also think he has a place as long relief, as the starting rotation is likely to be in flux and Peters is a lefty, which are in short supply on this roster. Peters relies on a fastball and a curve and is a groundball pitcher.

Duane Underwood Jr.

Underwood came over from the Chicago Cubs, and though he had a mediocre year last season, finishing with a 4.33 ERA, a 1.431 WHIP, and a 4.27 FIP, the righty will be back in the mix as a setup man and middle relief. He rolls with a four-seamer, a change up, a curve, and a sinker.

Anthony Banda

The last lefty on the roster, Banda will get his chances due to that fact alone, especially if Peters remains as a starter. Banda appeared in 25 games last season for the Bucs, finishing with a 3.42 ERA, a 1.405 WHIP, and a 4.84 FIP. He has a 94-MPH fastball, a change up, and a curve.

Luis Oviedo

The 22-year-old right hander struggled mightily last season, finishing with an 8.80 ERA, 1.989 WHIP and a 5.66 FIP in 22 appearances He’ll likely play at the Minor League level this year.

Minor League Names to Watch

None of these guys are ready for primetime yet, but keep an eye on the following names in the Minors. They could play a role in upcoming seasons.

Tyler Samaniego

Jack Hartman

Emmanuel Meija

Blake Cederlind - 60-day disabled list

Austin Brice - just signed

Cam Alldred

Nick Dombkowski

Luis Peralta