In a time when Major League managers are becoming less picky about giving relievers a specific role, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ manager Clint Hurdle hasn’t taken the same path.
George Kontos has the eighth inning role locked down for the Bucs. After being acquired last year from the San Francisco Giants through trade waivers, the 32-year old has been steady but not spectacular in Pittsburgh. He’s technically only logged 20.2 innings as a Pirate.
After coming over to the Bucs last August, he appeared in 15 games out of the pen with 11 of them being in the eighth inning or later. Through 14.2 innings pitched as a Pirate in 2017, he only allowed three earned runs.
He also missed a lot of bats last year. He struck out 70 of the 278 batters he faced, giving him a 9.5 K/9 between the Giants and Pirates, the highest of any year in his career. The next closest was in 2012, his first full year in the bigs, with a 9.1 K/9.
So far in 2018, it’s been a strange beginning for Kontos. He is still the eighth inning guy and has made six appearances, including a scoreless frame in yesterday’s 6-1 series clinching win over the Chicago Cubs. However, in his previous two outings he had given up four runs, with three coming on a home run from Eugenio Suarez of the Cincinnati Reds on April 7.
He’s just struggling to miss bats right now. So far, he only has one strikeout which came on Opening Day in Detroit. As of right now, his K/9 sits at 1.5, astronomically low for a pitcher at the back end of a major league bullpen.
The small sample size makes it tough to draw a conclusion this early. Kontos hasn’t necessarily struggled; he just hasn’t looked like himself. Pitchers, especially relievers, are volatile. All it takes is one pitch and their entire stat line is blown up.
His pen mates haven’t exactly picked up the slack in front of him either. The Pirates bullpen is young and has severely struggled in 2018 as they carry the second worst bullpen ERA in MLB at 6.97.
Kontos is one of the more experienced pitchers on the staff and has proven he belongs in the majors. For that, he needs to step up and show whoever is in that bullpen that their woes can’t be more than temporary if the Pirates expect to continue winning.