Two years ago in spring training, Kent Tekulve approached Felipe Vazquez.
Tekulve, the Pittsburgh Pirates’ second all-time saves leader (he recorded 158 to Roy Face’s 191), wanted to impart some of his wisdom on the team’s current bullpen ace.
“We had a 10-minute chat,” Vazquez said Saturday night when the 1979 Pirates met their 2019 successors at PNC Park.
Tekulve spent seven seasons in the minors and didn’t record a double-digit save total until his fifth year with the Pirates. He said he doesn’t want Vazquez to lose his focus if the inevitable occurs and he blows a save or two.
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“The kind of trap you fall into was thinking you need to be perfect. You should save every game,” Tekulve said.
“You would love to save every game, but it’s not going to happen. But you have to continue to be yourself and do what you do. Prepare every day and do the job that’s called for, and then do it to the best of your ability.
“And when you go to bed at night and you put your head on your pillow and say, ‘I did the best I could today,’ you had a good night no matter what the results are. When I left the clubhouse on the way home, that game was gone and I was in preparation mode for tomorrow’s game. Learned that from Willie (Stargell).”
Said Vazquez: “He actually told me ‘I don’t want the same thing that happened to me to happen to you.’ You’ve been going good. Don’t mess with your routine. I haven’t changed it all. I’m still the same guy.”
Vazquez found success a bit sooner than Tekulve. He was in the minors for six years, but he saved 21 games in only his second big-league season (2017 with the Pirates). He has 79 saves, putting him halfway to Tekulve’s number after 2 1/2 seasons as the Pirates’ closer.
But Vazquez probably won’t get the chance to stay with the Pirates as long as Tekulve did (12 seasons). With the July 31 trade deadline approaching, he has been the topic of trade speculation.
Vazquez said he listens to none of it, choosing to remain focused on the job at hand.
“Whatever happens is going to happen whether you want it or not,” he said. “If I have to go somewhere, I’ll go. If I have to stay here, I’ll stay. I’m not trying to think about that because I’m here right now.”