Pittsburgh Pirates relief pitcher Neftali Feliz was in a jam when he allowed the first two Cincinnati Reds to reach base with Billy Hamilton at the plate.
Hamilton hit a ball on a short hop that Pirates third baseman Jung Ho Kang quickly fielded. He got the out at third base and threw to Josh Harrison to get the out at second base.
Kang did not have any chance to react until the 88 mph hit bounced into his glove but he quickly formulated a game plan.
“I was thinking of throwing the ball to second base because the ball was hit toward third base,” Kang said through interpreter H.K. Kim. “My thought was field it, get the out at third and toss it to second.”
Kang’s play helped the Pirates come away with a 5-3 victory Saturday night at PNC Park.
“He shows up ready, he works hard,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said of Kang. “He just came off a series where he had some errors. He’s a good defensive player, sometimes things happen. He’s shown that ability before. He’s quick with his feet, can leave his feet and is accurate. That play in and of itself really gave us an opportunity to finish that game off with a win. It’s a whole different look after he gloves it and gets the double play.”
Kang only came in as a pinch-hitter in the bottom half of the seventh inning after David Freese departed with left elbow discomfort he sustained by being hit in the third inning.
Feliz had allowed a lead-off walk to Tucker Barnhart in an extended at-bat and a single to pinch-hitter Ivan De Jesus Jr. Hamilton’s speed made him a threat and provided an extra sense of urgency for Feliz to get through the inning.
“When you’re in a tough situation and one of your teammates pulls a play like that, you’ve got to give him all the credit,” Feliz said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez. “Any time I go to pitch, my goal and my attack is to attack the zone. I’m glad we were able to do that.”
With Hamilton still on first base, Feliz got Zack Cozart to hit a soft grounder that Kang was able to toss on to fellow defensive replacement Sean Rodriguez to end the threat and give the reliever his 25th hold of the season.
“You can’t help but be joyful that you were able to make sure no more runs entered through,” said Feliz. “Having Kang make a heck of a play like that brings a lot of joy, and that’s what we’re all about. When you have teammates making a play like that, it just brings a lot more confidence and a lot more rhythm.”
Nova impresses in first start
Saturday night was Ivan Nova’s first major league start as a Pirate, and he did exactly what Hurdle asked of him.
Though Nova (8-6 overall/1-0 with the Pirates) had a couple of hiccups, particularly to Brandon Phillips, who homered twice off the right-handed starter, the end result was seven innings of three-run baseball.
In his 76 pitches, Nova held the Reds to six base runners, while getting nine ground ball outs, five strikeouts, no walks and 56 strikes.
Additionally, Nova retired 11 consecutive Reds at one point and got 13 outs on three pitches or less.
Nova knew the Reds were an aggressive-hitting team, so the emphasis was on throwing quality pitches. He was able to execute this, especially with running his two-seam fastball in for strikes to right-handed batters.
“That was one of the pitches I wanted to get going from the bullpen,” Nova said.
Nova’s most dominant innings were the first when he threw 11 of 12 pitches for strikes and the fifth when he struck out the side on 10 pitches, all of which were strikes. Only a Eugenio Suarez foul tip broke up an immaculate inning.
It comforted Nova that he had a familiar face in Francisco Cervelli catching him. The two were a battery 14 times with the New York Yankees.
“It was amazing man,” Cervelli told Stephen J. Nesbitt of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about catching Nova again. “I’ve been asking for this guy for a long time. I know what he’s capable of doing.”
How they scored
After Nova left Joey Votto on second with a two-out double in the first inning, the Pirates scored the first run of the night.
Starling Marte hit his 27th double of the season on a 2-0 pitch from Homer Bailey. He would score soon after as Andrew McCutchen singled on a 2-1 pitch.
Phillips hit his seventh home run of the season for the Reds to lead off the second inning. It was his first home run since May 7, a span of 286 at-bats, the longest drought of his career.
The Reds scored a second run on a Tucker Barnhart RBI single.
A two-run third inning served as the Pirates retort as the team nearly batted around.
Josh Harrison led off with a single and advanced on a Suarez error. The inning appeared to stall after the Pirates got into two outs, but Bailey began to lose control as he walked Matt Joyce, hit Freese with the aforementioned pitch and hit John Jaso knocking in a run.
Cervelli was the next batter and hit a 2-0 Bailey offering for an RBI single.
After Bailey surrendered a lead-off single to Nova, his second career hit, Josh Harrison hit a single off the Clemente Wall. Nova slowly trotted to second base holding Harrison to the single.
Still, the play was enough to knock Bailey (1-1) out of the game after three-plus innings. This was Bailey’s shortest outing against the Pirates since June 5, 2012 when he threw exactly three innings.
Starling Marte then hit a two-run single off new Reds pitcher Josh Smith, and both of those runs were assessed to Bailey.
Nova was having his way with the Reds hitters and had a low-pitch count to boot before Phillips homered for a second time in the seventh inning.
Hurdle had no desire to bring Nova out to pitch the eighth inning and went with Feliz, a move which worked out as Kang’s reaction bailed the Pirates out of a jam.
Tony Watson shut down the Reds in order to close the game and earn his second save this season.
The Pirates have already won this weekend series but will look for a sweep as Gerrit Cole (7-6, 2.73 ERA) faces Dan Straily (6-6, 3.80 ERA). Cole has yet to defeat the Reds in his Pirates career posting an 0-5 record with a 5.30 ERA in seven starts.
Photo credit: @Pirates