It certainly took longer than Sam Howard would have wanted for him to make his debut with the Pittsburgh Pirates. But the wait would seem to have been worth it, as the Cartersville High graduate put together an almost perfect opening week for his new ball club.
Across four appearances last week, the left-handed reliever struck out seven, while allowing four hits and two walks, in five innings. He earned his first win with the team Thursday, when the Pirates walked off as winners against the Minnesota Twins, and currently holds a 1.80 ERA and 1.20 WHIP on the season.
Howard, who spent the first six years of his professional career in the Colorado Rockies organization, was claimed off waivers by Pittsburgh during the offseason. As a member of the club's 40-man roster, the 27-year-old would have been considered a favorite to be with the team on Opening Day.
However, when MLB decided to restart its coronavirus-delayed season in July, Howard was assigned to the Pirates' alternate training site in Altoona, Pennsylvania. After seeing several of its relievers struggle or go down injured in the first week-plus of the new season, Pittsburgh (3-13 in 2020) finally called up Howard on Aug. 2.
He saw action in four games over the ensuing week, pitching consistently every other day, and looked solid each time out.
The day of his promotion, Howard tossed two scoreless frames (the ninth and 10th innings) with three Ks and two walks on the road against the Chicago Cubs. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound southpaw followed that up with a pair of flawless outings against Minnesota — including picking up the win Thursday, thanks to a Pittsburgh rally in the home half of the ninth for a 6-5 win. The only run Howard allowed all week came versus the Detroit Tigers Saturday, when he gave up consecutive two-out doubles to future Hall of Famer Miguel Cabrera and C.J. Cron in his lone inning of work.
A third-round pick out of Georgia Southern by Colorado in 2014, Howard is now 3-0 in his MLB career, which began June, 10, 2018. Although he finished 2-0 last season with the Rockies, his ratio-based stats weren't great, with a 6.63 ERA and 1.63 WHIP across 20 outings.
That being said, Howard seems to have found a home with the Pirates — who will be off until at least this Thursday, as their series with St. Louis has been called off due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the Cardinals team. At the very least, he's shown the promise that he should be able to remain a fixture in Pittsburgh throughout the remainder of the shortened, 60-game season.