PITTSBURGH (93.7 The Fan) – It’s not a glamour position in baseball, maybe it’s akin to an offensive lineman or long-snapper in football, the couple of minutes defensive specialist in basketball or penalty-killer in hockey. It’s the long reliever. Chase DeJong returned to the Pirates embracing that role.
The importance of it played out on Saturday when the Pirates used eight pitchers because of a rain delay which ended Luis Ortiz’s outing. They didn’t have a long reliever, when they had three to start the year-Wil Crowe is still dealing with injury, Duane Underwood was designated for assignment and DeJong was in Triple A.
DeJong says he thrives in a situation where many struggled. He said he can go out and give the Pirates multiple innings, multiple times a week. Like Underwood, DeJong was first designed for assignment. He said it really hurt, but he didn’t bury his head or get upset.
He was actually glad to stay.
“There was some relief with that,” DeJong said Sunday. “The uncertainty and turmoil of the waivers process and the trade portal, is not fun at all. Getting on the other side of it, I was just thrilled to still belong to this organization. I was real happy they were able to see me through.”
He didn’t approach it as a disappointment being back in Indy, although he obviously was disappointed. DeJong said the staff with the Pirates and in the minors were on the same page and reiterated to him they were here to support him and get him back to the majors. The 11th year professional pitcher bought in.
Taking a step back, what he realized was he didn’t have the fastball command he needed. He still had good off-speed pitches, but because the fastball wasn’t over the plate, they weren’t effective. The numbers were brutal-9.1 innings, 10.61 ERA, 1.93 WHIP, 13 hits and five walks. He decided to approach the changes he needed with the mindset of game planning against himself.
“I’m looking at my outing and thinking ‘he’s not in zone with the fastball’,” DeJong said. “If you do that, they don’t have to respect the 92-94. They can sit between the curveball speed at 75 and the hardest pitch I throw off-speed wise which is the splitter which is 86. You have an 11mph range they can sit on and eliminate my fastball. I think that’s why I was struggling.”
The numbers in AAA, and what happened on Saturday, gave him the opportunity to come up. DeJong struck out 11 in 10.1 innings with a 1.74 ERA. He’s looking to continue to prove his worth, knowing what is required of him and going at it with his close friends.
“I think that’s why he hurt so much for me to leave the team,” DeJong said. “I love these guys. This is extended family to me. Being here and understanding what we are trying to accomplish and achieve. It’s something I want to be a part of and it’s not given.”
He approached some tough news the right way, and now DeJong gets another chance after a 2022 where he had a 2.64 ERA with 71.2 innings in 42 appearances.