Vin Mazzaro Playing The Role Of Unlikely Hero For Pittsburgh Pirates

By Thom Tsang
Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Look, there’s probably a pretty good chance that most folks don’t know a whole lot about Vin Mazzaro.

And even if the name does jog the memory, it’s unlikely that what he’s known for is something he wants to retread very much. I probably wouldn’t either, if I were the victim of one of the worst single outings in recent baseball history, being pounded by the Cleveland Indians for 14 runs on 11 hits, three walks and a homer over just 2.1 innings as a member of the Kansas City Royals on one fateful day in May of 2011.

As far as the Pittsburgh Pirates are concerned, though, all of that is ancient history.

A former top-10 organization prospect of the Oakland Athletics, Mazzaro needed a new start in 2013 — and he seems to have found it in the NL. Not only that, though, but his role is much more defined now: instead of being an occasional (and largely ineffective) spot starter, the Bucs have only used the righty out of the bullpen.

And well, let’s just say that his new teammates know him as something a whole lot more flattering than his past these days.

Take the Pirates’ latest victory, their ninth in a row, for example. After a longer-than-expected rain delay effectively ended the day of starter Charlie Morton after just two innings with Pittsburgh down by one against the Milwaukee Brewers, it was Mazzaro who kept the team in it, tossing five brilliant flawless innings with one strikeout to get this upstart team the chance to come back in a tightly-contested game.

Winning streaks are made from performances like this, and while it will be Russell Martin‘s walkoff single in extras that is remembered as far as heroics go for this game, it simply would not have happened without Mazzaro’s own unrecognized heroism.

It’s not like this was a one-off performance either. Sure, the five-inning outing might be Mazzaro’s longest thus far this season, but he’s actually been rather good for most of the season. The 26-year old has only had one legitimate meltdown all season (four runs on five hits on April 26), and actually went through all of May without giving up a run.

Though the last month hasn’t gone quite as smoothly, this is still a pitcher who holds a 3.06/1.13 ERA/WHIP on the season, and has gotten there with a new-found focus to attack batters (career best 2.06 BB/9 and  61.2 percent first strikes) while getting more bites on his outside offerings (32.8 percent swings outside the zone, also a career-high).

In short, this is a young arm who may finally be starting to develop a niche, and it comes as just the right time for the right team of underdogs.

And even if he’s doing it all without being recognized for it, the payoff in the end — a winning season with Pirates and potential playoff baseball — will be more than enough.

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