Ron Cook: After closing out sweep of Cardinals, David Bednar has another case of beer in his future

Tribune Content Agency

What does IC Light go for these days? Derek Shelton had better start saving up. He’s going to owe a case to David Bednar real soon.

The beer was Shelton’s gift to Bednar last season when Bednar made the National League All-Star team. It was the perfect gift, Bednar being a Pittsburgher through and through. Now, it’s time for another case to be purchased. There is no doubt Bednar is headed to another All-Star Game. What he has done this season has been remarkable. What he did over the weekend went beyond that.

Bednar made it three saves in three days Sunday by closing out the Pirates’ weekend sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in their 2-1 win. It was the first time in his career that he pitched three days in a row. Fatigue? What fatigue? He struck out catcher Andrew Knizer to end the game with a 96-mph fastball after setting him up with two breaking balls in the upper 70s.

“I think I left the park [Saturday] knowing that I was coming to the yard today ready to pitch,” Bednar said. He made it a point to find Shelton a few hours before the 11:35 a.m. game to deliver that message. “I wanted to make sure he knew I was ready to go.”

Shelton didn’t need much convincing, especially after getting the blessing to use Bednar again from his pitching lieutenants, Oscar Marin and Justin Meccage. Shelton loves watching Bednar pitch as much as the rest of us do. He knows it means an almost-certain win.

Bednar had saves in four games during the Pirates’ current five-game winning streak. He is 13-for-14 in save chances for the season, the blown save coming against Houston on April 11 in large part because of a throwing error by shortstop Rodolfo Castro.

Do you want more numbers?

Bednar’s earned-run average is 1.13, second-lowest among National League relief pitchers. His WHIP of 0.75 also is second-best. And his strikeout-to-walk ratio? That is a ridiculous 30-to-1.

You read it right.

Bednar has struck out 30 batters and walked just one.

“I think he’s become one of the elite closers in the game,” Shelton said in something of understatement.

Rich Hill, who has pitched in the big leagues for about 99 years, took that one step further after giving the Pirates’ taxed bullpen a much-needed 6 2/3 innings of one-run ball.

“I’d put him up there with any of the guys that I’ve played with, guys who, arguably, could be and probably will be Hall of Famers,” Hill said. “I know it’s early for David and his career, but you can see that conviction and confidence. That’s something that you want in your closer. That’s something that we’re fortunate to have.”

Hill said what separates Bednar from other closers is that he has four pitches. He mentioned the fastball that Bednar used to blow away Knizer. He talked of the “command” Bednar has with his breaking ball. He described Bednar’s split-finger pitch “that falls off the table.” And he didn’t forget Bednar’s “cutter-slider.”

“It’s four extremely impressive pitches,” Hill said. “Most times, you might see the closer have two. So trying to cover four is a tall task to ask of hitters in that ninth inning.”

Add catcher Austin Hedges to the list of Bednar admirers.

“It’s amazing what he’s capable of,” Hedges said.

Aw, shucks, Bednar said.

He might be a terror on the mound, but he is anything but that off the field.

“I pride myself on throwing any pitch in any count,” Bednar said. “I think that really comes with just having intent with everything and just being aggressive and really just having that mantra of just filling up the zone. The hitters can feel that.”

The All-Star Game is in Seattle on July 11. Bednar was the Pirates’ lone representative last season. He should be joined by Mitch Keller this season.

Who knows what Shelton will do for Keller? He gave champagne to Adam Frazier and Bryan Reynolds when they made the All-Star Game in 2021. Keller might like that just fine.

But Bednar?

“He’s a blue-collar kid; he’s a Pittsburgh guy,” Shelton said after his beer presentation last season.

“I don’t know if the smile on his face was big for the fact that he got 30 free lagers or that he was making the All-Star team. He was pretty excited for both.”

Who cares what the IC Light will cost Shelton this time? For him, it will be money well-spent.