Regardless of what happens the rest of the way, Duane Underwood Jr. will forever own a slice of World Baseball Classic history.
Underwood may not have known it at the time, but when he retired the side in the top of the eighth inning of Puerto Rico’s eventual 10-0 win over Israel, the 28-year-old recorded the final three outs of an unofficial perfect game, capping off one of the most complete performances in the tournament’s history.
“Anytime you’re part of something like that that’s history, I think it’s really neat,” said Pirates manager Derek Shelton.
In a normal game, Puerto Rico would’ve had to record three more outs in the ninth inning to cap off the perfecto, but when Enrique Hernández drove in a run in the bottom of the eighth, Puerto Rico achieved victory via the Classic’s mercy rule. Official perfect games and no-hitters must last at least nine innings, but semantics don’t take away from the gravity of the moment.
“It’s a dream come true, man,” Underwood said prior to the tournament. “I can remember being a little younger and watching the Classic. Being on that world stage, it’s an honor and a blessing. To be able to represent my family and the country of Puerto Rico will be a really great experience.”
Underwood, who has retired all nine batters he's faced across three appearances, isn’t the only member of the Pirates' organization who is impressing during the Classic.
David Bednar has thrown two scoreless innings in two appearances with four strikeouts. He struck out the side in the United States' first game of tournament play.
Roansy Contreras and Luis Ortiz combined to pitch 4 2/3 scoreless innings with seven strikeouts and no walks in the Dominican Republic’s 10-0 win over Israel.
Chavez Young had five steals on five attempts for Great Britain, tying Tsuyoshi Nishioka (Japan), Ichiro Suzuki (Japan) and Jimmy Rollins (United States) for the most in a single tournament.
Tsung-Che Cheng went 5-for-15 with a triple, two walks and three RBIs in four games for Chinese Taipei, which did not advance to the second round.
Antwone Kelly, 19, pitched a scoreless inning for the Netherlands against Chinese Taipei.
“The WBC is such a cool event, but for our players to be involved and watching [Contreras and Ortiz] pitch [on Tuesday], and watching Duane be part of [Puerto Rico's unofficial perfecto], I think it’s really kind of special,” Shelton said.
BUCS ADD UTILITY MAN TO OPENING DAY COMPETITION
The Pirates added a late contender to the Opening Day roster last week, acquiring INF/OF Mark Mathias from the Rangers in exchange for right-hander Ricky DeVito.
Mathias, like virtually every player contending for a spot on Pittsburgh’s bench, possesses defensive versatility. Mathias rose through the Minors as an infielder, spending significant time at second base, third base and shortstop, but he’s spent a sprinkling of time at all three outfield positions as well. The Rangers even asked if he would serve as their emergency catcher.
“I’m getting used to [the outfield],” Mathias said. “I’m comfortable playing left, right, center -- everywhere. Any way to get in the lineup, for sure.”
The 28-year-old owns a career .265/.360/.411 slash line across 2,116 Minor League plate appearances, but Mathias appeared to take a step forward last season.
After missing all of 2021 with a torn labrum in his right shoulder, Mathias slashed .322/.422/.518 with nine home runs and 13 steals across 58 Triple-A games. That translated to the Major League level, where he hit .277/.365/.554 with five home runs in 24 games with the Rangers. Those numbers likely aren’t sustainable for Mathias, who owns a career .771 OPS in the Minors, but it’ll be worth monitoring how he performs in the coming weeks.
ANOTHER WAVE OF ROSTER CUTS
The Pirates announced their latest wave of roster cuts on Tuesday afternoon, a list headlined by Endy Rodriguez, the No. 55 prospect in baseball per MLB Pipeline.
Along with Rodriguez, Mike Burrows (Pittsburgh's No. 9 prospect), Jared Triolo (No. 18), Colin Selby and Ryan Vilade were optioned to Triple-A Indianapolis, while Wei-Chieh Huang, Caleb Smith and Nate Webb were reassigned to Minor League camp.
For Rodriguez, the Triple-A assignment was more of an inevitability. The organization’s reigning Minor League Player of the Year, Rodriguez played well during Spring Training, posting a 1.000 OPS across 17 plate appearances. But with only six Triple-A games under his belt, the Pirates will elect to get the 22-year-old some extra seasoning.
The Pirates now have 50 players (24 pitchers, 26 position players) remaining in Major League camp.
STOCK REPORT: FORMER FIRST-ROUNDER TRENDING UPWARD
Throughout Spring Training, this section of the newsletter will aim to highlight two players -- one whose stock is rising and another whose stock is falling. This section will focus more on players fighting for a roster spot as opposed to players who have, more or less, secured their spots.
STOCK UP: Travis Swaggerty
(Last week: Chris Owings)
The competition for Pittsburgh’s fourth outfield spot is wide open, and no one has done more to seize the opportunity than Swaggerty. Across 21 plate appearances, Swaggerty is batting a blistering .400/.429/.700 with two home runs. Along with his offense, Swaggerty showed off his arm earlier this month by throwing out a runner at the plate who was trying to score on a sacrifice fly.
For more on Swaggerty, click here.
STOCK DOWN: Yohan Ramirez
(Last week: Ji Hwan Bae)
Ramirez had sneaky-good results with the Pirates last year, posting a 3.67 ERA and 3.82 FIP across 27 innings, but the right-hander has struggled mightily this spring. The 27-year-old has allowed eight runs (seven earned) and eight hits across four innings this spring, striking out four batters but walking two and hitting one. On Sunday against the Braves, Ramirez allowed three runs and retired just one batter.
FORWARDED FROM A FRIEND? SUBSCRIBE NOW
To subscribe to Pirates Beat, visit this page and mark "Pirates Beat" from our newsletter list. Make sure you're following the Pirates or that they're checked as your favorite team.