Struggling Pirates closer David Bednar booed at home

David Bednar’s first three seasons in Pittsburgh largely have been charmed ones as the hometown kid developed into a two-time All-Star closer for a team convinced it’s on the rise.

And while the Pirates might be on their way to contention, Bednar is faltering. The right-hander blew his third save in four opportunities on Tuesday when Detroit rallied for a 5-3 victory.

The most jarring moment wasn’t the walk or the two batters he hit that fueled the Tigers’ comeback, but the sound of Bednar being booed at home by a crowd that has emphatically embraced him from the moment he arrived from San Diego in the January 2021 trade that sent Joe Musgrove to the Padres.

While Bednar, who spent most of spring training sidelined with a lat injury, took responsibility for his performance, his teammates are more concerned about the way he was treated by fans when he left the game.

“This is the pride of Pittsburgh,” first baseman Rowdy Tellez said. “To everybody: We don’t do that out here. … What happened today is, I think, unacceptable. We as a group in Pittsburgh have got to be better. He’s an All-Star for a reason and we just have to be better.”

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Bednar, 29, called Tellez’s support “huge” but added he’s in a tough spot at the moment.

Bednar grew up in the suburb of Mars, about 30 minutes from PNC Park, and has been a fixture at the back end of the bullpen for the past two seasons. He’s piled up 58 saves in that span behind a dazzling fastball and a combative attitude on the mound.

The lifelong fan of the NFL’s Pittsburgh Steelers typically takes the mound to the rock song “Renegade” by Styx, which serves as a call to arms for the Steelers’ defense during home matches at nearby Acrisure Stadium.

While the Pirates are off to a 9-3 start, one of their best over the past 30 years, Bednar has struggled. He couldn’t lock down the save versus Miami on March 31 or Baltimore on Saturday. Ultimately it didn’t cost his team as Pittsburgh managed to win both games.

Not Tuesday. He walked onto the mound with the Pirates up 3-1. He left it with Pittsburgh trailing after he retired just one of six batters. He walked Riley Greene starting the ninth, hit Spencer Torkelson then gave up a single to Gio Urshela that ultimately scored two and tied the score. Kerry Carpenter followed one out later with a single and Bednar then nicked Javy Báez.

Command typically hasn’t been a problem for Bednar, who had hit just five batters in 193 appearances before Tuesday.

“Just no control in the zone right now,” Bednar said. “That’s my bread and butter. That’s what makes me good. Just need to get back to throwing strikes in the zone, competing in the zone. When I do that, good things happen.”

Pittsburgh manager Derek Shelton said he thinks Bednar is healthy and the issue is centered on rust that built up while Bednar recovered from the lat injury.

“It’s a matter of being sharp,” Shelton said. “But, I think this is also a matter of when you see pitchers miss spring training that this can have some effect.”

The Pirates are off Wednesday before starting a seven-game trip in Philadelphia on Thursday. They do have options, including temporarily moving seven-time All-Star reliever Aroldis Chapman from the setup role to a closer.

“Yeah, I think we’ll sit down and talk about why we think there’s command issues,” Shelton said. “If it’s mechanical, if it’s pitch mix, what it is. I think once we figure that out, we kind of go from there.”

Bednar for now is trying to take solace that this bump is happening in April and not September for a team that believes it can contend in the up-for-grabs NL Central. “I think everybody’s gone through these before,” Bednar said. “I’ve had some struggles before and overcome them. It’s still so early. Obviously, very frustrating, but at the end of the year hopefully we’ll be looking back and laughing at this.”

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