Pirates’ Bednar looks to build on his strong rookie season

BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) — It would be hard to top David Bednar’s first season with the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The right-handed relief pitcher had a sparkling 2.23 ERA in 61 games as a rookie in 2021. He also struck out 77 in 60 2/3 innings while allowing just 40 hits and 19 walks.

Bednar won the Steve Blass Award, symbolic of the Pirates’ top pitcher, from the Pittsburgh chapter of the Baseball Writers’ Association of America.

Topping it all off is that Bednar is a Pittsburgh guy who graduated from Mars High School in the city’s northern suburbs. Bednar came to the Pirates from the San Diego Padres as one of five prospects in a trade for pitcher Joe Musgrove prior to last season.

No wonder the 27-year-old seems to perpetually have a smile on his face.

“It definitely took a bit to sink in,” Bednar said, reflecting on his rookie year. “Looking back, it was an awesome opportunity and I still pinch myself every day, even in the offseason. Driving through the city, I look at PNC Park and go, ‘that’s where I get to go to work.’ It never gets old. It’s so exciting and it’s so awesome. Looking forward to having another good year here.”

Bednar notched his first three career saves during the season’s final two months after closer Richard Rodriguez was traded to the Atlanta Braves on July 30. Chris Stratton had seven saves after the trade, though manager Derek Shelton never officially named Rodriguez’s successor. Stratton is back after posting a 3.63 ERA in 68 games last season.

Shelton has yet to designate a closer for the start of the upcoming season. However, Bednar would seem to be a strong candidate. His fastball averaged 97.0 mph a year ago and he complements it with an above-average curveball and split-finger pitch.

“Honestly, I haven’t thought too much of it,” he said of being the closer. “Whenever the phone rings, I’m going to be ready, and just trying to punch some tickets. That’s all.”

Bednar was just happy to have a plane ticket to Florida after the 99-day lockout delayed the start of spring training for a month. However, he says he does not feel his preparation was hampered by the work stoppage and is looking forward to the Pirates’ opener April 7 at St. Louis.

Bednar has not allowed a run in three relief appearances covering 3 1/3 innings this spring.

“It was a little bit tricky with the delay and everything, but I just tried to keep it as normal as possible and as the weeks went by, just keep on adjusting,” Bednar said. “I was preparing to report on time. Fortunately, it wasn’t too much longer, so I was able to keep my foot on the gas and just keep rolling. I’m in a good spot and ready to roll.”

Pittsburgh had a 61-101 record last year, just the ninth season with triple-digit losses in the franchise’s 140-year history. Still in the middle of a major rebuilding project, the Pirates could finish last in the NL Central for a fourth straight year.

The dire predictions don’t damper Bednar’s enthusiasm.

“It’s just nice coming to camp, knowing guys, and not having to break the ice and everything like that last year,” Bednar said. “Just excited to get going on the season.”

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