PITTSBURGH (AP) — David Bednar kept his expectations low when he came home to Pittsburgh last offseason.
Make the Pirates out of spring training. That’s it. Asking for anything more would have been greedy for a reliever who hadn’t exactly excelled during his two seasons with the San Diego Padres.
The trade that sent starting pitcher Joe Musgrove to San Diego brought Bednar back to his hometown, giving the 26-year-old from the Pittsburgh suburbs the fresh start he needed after four forgettable outings for the Padres in 2020.
“Last year just kind of left a bad taste in my mouth,” Bednar said Wednesday after being named the team’s pitcher of the year. “I didn’t have the year I wanted and just kind of started the offseason with a chip on my shoulder.”
Bednar turned that motivation into a career-altering season that’s also earned him semi-cult status on a rebuilding club. The guy just looking for a roster spot six months ago has evolved into one of the few trusted arms in a mostly anonymous bullpen.
Working in a variety of roles — though lately he’s found himself on the mound during high-leverage late-game situations — Bednar entered Wednesday with a 3-1 record, a 2.11 ERA and three saves in 60 appearances. And he’s done it with the kind of tenacity that likely means he won’t have to worry about whether he’s going to stick when he arrives in Bradenton, Florida, for spring training next February.
“(When I got here) I just wanted to, you know, just get outs and whatever happened, happened,” Bednar said. “And, you know, obviously as a relief pitcher, I think everybody wants to throw in those big spots. For them to have the trust in me, to throw me out there in those situations just built my confidence even more.”
Before this year, Bednar had a fastball that reaches the upper 90s and a split-finger that can be difficult to control — hardly a world-beating arsenal. But he added a curveball that has helped him bury hitters. He’s struck out 76 batters in 59 2/3 innings and opponents are hitting .180 against him.
“This is a guy that came into spring training fastball-split, and now we’re seeing a breaking ball that plays above average,” Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. “And we talk about growth, we talk about a guy taking an opportunity moving to the back end, moving to a leverage situation, all while developing a pitch along the way, that’s pretty impressive.”
Bednar has done while pitching for a team heading toward a third straight last-place finish in the NL Central. His emergence has been one of the few bright spots on the field, and the way he’s embraced his homecoming has given a dwindling fanbase something to rally around.
The kid from Mars — about 25 minutes north of PNC Park — races in from the bullpen to “Renegade” by Styx, the same anthem that’s long served as the rallying cry for the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense at Heinz Field just down the street.
Bednar has embraced the role of the hometown hero, though it’s not always easy for his manager.
A few weeks ago, Shelton was subjected to repeated cries of four self-identified fans from Mars sitting near the Pirates dugout who pleaded with Shelton to put Bednar in.
Shelton had no issue with the sentiment. The timing, however, was weird, since the chants began in the second inning.
It’s an arrangement Bednar would have taken in April. Not anymore.
“I’m just trying to keep my foot on the gas,” Bednar said. “No brakes. … Just going to try and help the team win. Whatever that looks like. Whatever it takes. I just want to be there for that.”
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