Bautista assured in a high-pressure role
Bucs reliever healthy, finding zone, counted on for crucial outs
ST. LOUIS -- Don't underestimate the effect that Tuesday's successful faceoff against St. Louis slugger Albert Pujols might have on Denny Bautista, as he looks to finish out these last weeks of the season a pivotal member of the Pirates bullpen.
"To me, it's just very important to go out there and face Pujols in that situation," Bautista said. "I have more confidence now because I know they trust me. They put me in the game in the big situations."
After years of being put in late-inning situations and then being revoked from the role because of control problems, Bautista is seizing this latest chance. For those that missed it, Bautista came in during the most crucial situation of Tuesday's game.
Bautista took the mound with the tying run on first and two outs in the eighth. Pujols stood at the plate. A nine-pitch at-bat, which included four two-strike foul balls by Pujols, ensued before Bautista won the battle. Pujols flied out to deep right-center to end the inning.
While notable because of the hitter he faced, Bautista has had similar late-inning success for weeks now. Acquired by the club back in late June, Bautista brought with him a a control problems. At least according to scouting reports. In any event, the Pirates announced that he would be used primarily in middle-relief situations.
It's safe to say, though, that Bautista has earned his way to pitching in a more critical role, as the Pirates have seen little evidence of the control problems that were one of the major culprits behind Bautista jumping between five teams in the last five seasons.
"I heard he was kind of erratic, but we haven't seen it," manager John Russell said, as he simultaneously knocked on wood. "He's done a great job for us. We see occasional spurts of misfires, but for the most part, he's been pretty efficient in the strike zone."
In 24 1/3 innings with the Pirates, Bautista has walked 12. He has collected 22 strikeouts during that span. Those numbers are in contrast to what Bautista did earlier in the season while with Detroit. There, the righty issued 14 walks in 16 outings and struck out just 10.
Asked what the difference is, Bautista quickly pointed to his health.
"I think it was just the shoulder problem, nothing else," he said. "Now my shoulder feels very good and I just want to keep working very hard and keep working at throwing my pitches for strikes."
Bautista missed almost the entire month of May with right shoulder tendinitis.
Since the All-Star break, Bautista has walked eight in 12 appearances, but has been tagged for runs in just two of those games. He has stranded nine of the 12 runners he's inherited since joining the club, and has become an integral late-inning option with the absence of Matt Capps and loss of Damaso Marte.
Just as good for the Pirates is that the midseason trade they made to acquire Bautista wasn't for a short-term purpose. Because Bautista still has less than two years of Major League service time, the club can retain the 6-foot-5 right-hander next season for a relatively inexpensive cost. Bautista is making just slightly over the Major League minimum this season.
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.