December 1, 2022

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Peters off to record start in move to Bucs' bullpen

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CHICAGO — Dillon Peters is cognizant of what he’s doing on the mound. Just don’t ask him about it.

Peters — one of several pitchers whom the Pirates are using in multi-inning, hybrid roles out of the bullpen — has been just about untouchable. He entered Friday without a run allowed in 7 2/3 innings across four games. He hadn’t allowed a hit to any of the 25 batters faced, a franchise record dating back to 1974, per STATS. But when a reporter attempted to bring up those points, Peters shot it down.

“I don’t want to hear it,” Peters said with a sly grin. “I know what you’re going to say.”

Those two trends, of course, won’t hold. At some point, Peters will allow a hit. At some point, Peters will allow a run. For now, it’s interesting to see just how far he can take this thing — even if he won’t acknowledge it.

“It gives you a lot of confidence when you got a guy pounding the zone,” said outfielder Bryan Reynolds. “It shows you that they trust you, they trust their stuff, and it keeps you locked into the game. It helps us, too, because we’re going to be able to be locked in to make plays for ‘em.”

The evolution of Peters’ Baseball Savant page has been a sight to behold. In 2019, Peters’ page was flooded with blue (worst in the league). His 2020 season does not come up as a toggle-down option when looking at percentile rankings. In 2021, Peters didn’t pitch enough to qualify for most stats, which is telling in and of itself.

This season? His page is a sea of red (best in the league). He’s 89th percentile in xwOBA and xERA. He’s 96th percentile in xBA. He’s 99th percentile in xSLG. Peters has altered his repertoire — more sinkers, fewer fastballs, fewer changeups, fewer curveballs and the addition of a slider — and those tweaks are bearing early fruit. This leap would be impressive in a vacuum. This leap in performance, though, has coincided with Peters’ transition to the bullpen, where he has pitched in an unfamiliar role.

Peters, for the most part, has been a starting pitcher his entire career. Entering this season, 30 of his 37 appearances were starts. In the Minor Leagues, all but five of his 93 appearances were starts. Life in the bullpen is relatively new. Peters isn’t the standard late-inning reliever, but is one of several pitchers who have been used in a multi-inning role. It’s new, but so far, it’s working.

“Staying within myself and taking it one pitch at a time, one outing at a time, has helped me transition into this role,” Peters said. “I’ve embraced it, and I’m going out there and attacking people and I’m attacking people in the zone. I think that it’s just trickled down and allowed me to have that same attitude the next day and the same attitude the next day.”

Added David Bednar: “It’s definitely an adjustment, but he’s handled it well. It’s been a lot of fun to watch him go out there and shove.”

Along with Peters, Wil Crowe, Miguel Yajure and Roansy Contreras (who was optioned to Triple-A on Thursday) all are starters turned multi-inning relievers. Chase De Jong, whose contract was selected Thursday, will likely join that conglomerate as well. So far, the results have been better than imagined.

Across 33 1/3 combined innings, Crowe, Contreras, Peters and Yajure have a 2.59 ERA with 33 strikeouts against 14 walks. Crowe and Peters, in particular, have been one heck of a dynamic duo. Neither has allowed a run in 19 2/3 combined innings. Entering Friday, Crowe had the most innings (12) for any pitcher yet to allow an earned run. Of this unit, Pirates manager Derek Shelton can’t ask for much more.

“I’ve been very pleased with it,” Shelton said last week. “We’re doing something different, something that we have put a lot of time and effort into, and we think is going to work.”

This formula is working for the Pirates and for Peters. After struggling with the Marlins and Angels, Peters is beginning to find his footing as a professional with Pittsburgh. He’s in the midst of a stellar streak, and maybe once the dust has settled, Peters will provide himself the space to appreciate this record-setting, tone-setting stretch.

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