PITTSBURGH — Roansy Contreras is currently pitching for the Pirates because of circumstance. He has a case to keep pitching for the Bucs because of his talent.
Behind three masterful scoreless innings of relief with five strikeouts, Contreras recorded the first win of his Major League career as the Pirates bested the Nationals, 9-4, on Thursday at PNC Park. It was an evening in which the complete breadth of Contreras’ talent was on display, a combination of flame and funk that makes his appearances appointment television.
“It was very exciting, very emotional as well,” Contreras told team interpreter Mike Gonzalez. “To be a part of the victory that we brought to this team, it’s something I can’t describe right now.”
As has become tradition, Contreras was showered with just about every substance in sight upon returning to the clubhouse. Shaving cream. Cold beer. Even ketchup. Manager Derek Shelton, who has already had the opportunity to celebrate Diego Castillo’s first hit and Miguel Yajure’s first win, said the feeling never gets old.
What made the achievement even sweeter for Contreras was knowing that he had family and friends back home in the Dominican Republic watching his masterful performance. A video circulated on social media of Contreras’ father reacting to his son retiring Juan Soto, who also hails from the Dominican Republic. When Contreras was shown the video after his outing, the milestone was all the sweeter.
“It feels amazing to be able to know that my family was able to witness that,” Contreras said.
That Contreras’ loved ones were able to witness the milestone in April, opposed to later in the season, was, oddly enough, the product of a string of unfortunate injuries.
Contreras, ranked as the club’s No. 5 prospect per MLB Pipeline, began the season on Triple-A Indianapolis’ Opening Day roster. He was scheduled to make his first start on April 9. When Duane Underwood Jr. experienced right hamstring discomfort on Opening Day, Contreras was the only healthy pitcher on the 40-man roster who wasn’t already playing for Pittsburgh. Thus, Contreras was, once again, a Pirate. While he’s here, he’ll have the chance to earn some staying power.
When the rosters are reduced to 26 players on May 2, Contreras could be sent back to Indianapolis. After all, Contreras was supposed to begin there. Shelton said the team views Contreras “as a starter at some point” but his current role is “fluid.” In Indianapolis, by contrast, Contreras would consistently start. If Contreras keeps impressing, the case to keep him up in Pittsburgh is all the more compelling.
Along with the fastballs, Contreras has three nearly identical strikeouts with his slider, all three of which were perfectly placed down-and-away.
Funny enough, the one pitch that Contreras didn’t register a strikeout with might be his best: a high-spin curveball that has a home in the 3,000-rpm (rotations per minute) club.
The allure of Contreras’ curveball was on full display in St. Louis, specifically when he baffled Yadier Molina. Contreras began his battle against Molina with a first-pitch curveball that registered 3,014 rpms and induced a downright ugly half-swing.
“That Molina breaking ball, that’s the one I want every single time. It’s short, it looks like a fastball, and then it just disappears,” catcher Roberto Pérez said.
During Pérez’s time in Cleveland, he had the opportunity to catch some of the game’s most brilliant young pitchers. When asked if Contreras’ curveball reminded him of anyone else’s, Pérez brought up a certain Cy Young Award winner.
“He threw two to Molina that made me think of Shane Bieber. And [Bieber] has a pretty good one. He has a very good one. He’s young. He’s still learning about himself. He just has to be consistent with it. We saw [on Saturday] what kind of swings he’s going to get when he throws it instead of babying it.”
The length of Contreras’ current stay is to be determined. The possibility that he suits up for Indianapolis come May is real. But should he keep shoving as he did on Thursday, the Pirates will have a tough decision on their hands.