Even with Spring Training, starting pitchers usually aren’t ramped all the way up at the start of the season. That, along with wanting to monitor innings in the minors, the bullpen can sometimes be asked to carry a bigger load than expected early in the year.
That’s exactly what the Indianapolis Indians bullpen was asked to do, and then some.
To say that how the first week unfolded for the Pittsburgh Pirates’ Triple-A team wasn’t as plan might be an understatement, despite the 4-2 finish against the Omaha Storm Chasers.
Things got derailed so quickly that it didn’t give us a good idea at what the rotation was supposed to be.
The second game of the season was postponed, giving way to a double header on Thursday, the projected starter for one of those games from DFAd off the 40-man roster and eventually traded, and the next in line was recalled to the major league club.
Through all that mess, and having to plug and play players, some making both starts and relief appearances in the same week, the Indians still came out winning four of the six games played.
In total, 15 different pitchers registered at least two innings pitched, 11 had multiple appearances and three both started a game and eventually came out of the bullpen.
Based off the Opening Day roster you could make an educated guess that the normal rotation would be something to the tune of Cody Bolton, Roansy Contreras, Chase De Jong, Trey McGough, Adonis Medina, and Beau Sulser. With McGough heading straight to the injured list, Osvaldo Bido would have been a logical replacement.
Cam Vieaux started eight games for Indianapolis last year but didn’t fare overly well (7.67 ERA) and he got the call for the first part of the double header on Thursday.
The 28-year-old lefty pitched two shutout innings that led the way to the bullpen to finish things out. Matt Eckelman only recorded one out and allowed three runs before Hunter Stratton came in and pitched 2 2/3 innings of shutout baseball that included getting out of a bases-loaded one out situation without any runners scoring. He struck out four along the way and got the win for his efforts.
Stratton generated four swing and misses and threw several knee buckling breaking pitches that the hitters could only look at for a called strike.
The 25-year-old right-handed Stratton was backed up by Yerry De Los Santos, who finished out the final two innings, striking out two batters and earning the save.
A former standout at UVA, Nathan Kirby pitched an inning of relief out the bullpen on Opening Night before having to start Saturday night’s contest. Kirby, 28, hadn’t started a professional game since June 2, 2018, while he was with the Carolina Mud Cats in the Milwaukee Brewers organization.
He pitched three innings, only allowing a run and striking out two batters, a game that was won by Brad Case who pitched three innings out of the bullpen behind him.
Returning to Indianapolis where he made four starts last year before getting called up to the majors, De Jong had the single longest outing of any pitcher last week, pitching four innings in Friday night’s victory.
When it was all said and done, the Indianapolis pitching staff finished the week tied for the fourth best ERA in the International League. Their ‘starters’ posted the third best ERA among IL rotations and the bullpen struck out the fourth most batters.
Through all the chaos, the Indians pitching staff really rose to the challenge, held strong and had some great performance throughout the week. As they enter week two against Saint Paul, they may have to great creative again as Contreras may have to remain with the major league team and pitch out of the bullpen.
THIS WEEK ON PIRATES PROSPECTS
Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.