It was a long 12 days away from PNC Park for the Pittsburgh Pirates, but a 4-1 victory Friday against the Cincinnati Reds has extended the Pirates’ current win-streak to a season-high five games. The Pirates now improve to 14-9 on the season, while the Reds drop to 9-14.
The win had four big takeaways:
Nicasio has best start of season
Seven games isn’t a large sample size, but it was telling enough that, coming into this game, Juan Nicasio was 0-2 with a 5.12 ERA in 19.1 innings pitched against the Reds.
Not exactly consistent.
And Nicasio had been up-and-down coming into Friday night’s start, with a 2-2 record and 4.50 ERA on the season.
Not exactly consistent.
But, Nicasio was on top of his game Friday with seven shutout innings, allowing just three hits and striking out a season-high eight batters. His game score of 78 is now tied for the second-best mark of his career. The strong showing also lowered Nicasio’s ERA to 3.33, and he earned the win, his third of the season.
A mixture of location all throughout the strike zone was key to Nicasio’s success. He also didn’t lose velocity on his pitches, and it seemed as though he benefitted from his start being postponed a day because of the Colorado weather.
The Pirates need Nicasio to come through in a big way this season, and Friday, he did just that. Still, he wasn’t the only big winner tonight.
A big win for the bullpen
Because Nicasio went seven innings and left with a 4-0 lead, there wasn’t much pressure on the bullpen. And Nicasio’s big outing, on top of Thursday’s postponed game, was really big for the battered bullpen.
After Nicasio was taken out, Tony Watson pitched a shut-out eighth inning, giving up one hit. Arquimedes Caminero was then brought in for the ninth, but he gave up a run — a fly ball a shallow Andrew McCutchen couldn’t make a play on — and manager Clint Hurdle elected to bring Mark Melancon for the final out because of the save situation. Melancon worked quickly to record his sixth save of the season.
April 18th may have been Tax Day in the U.S., but the West Coast trip was equal to that for the entire Pirates bullpen.
Joyce comes through in a pinch
Matt Joyce had one opportunity in Friday night’s game, and he took advantage of it with a seventh inning pinch-hit home run that also sent Jordy Mercer home. It was Joyce’s second pinch-hit homer of the season and the third of his career.
It’s clear that Hurdle has trust in Joyce — his name was in Thursday’s lineup prior to the game being postponed.
This season, Joyce is batting .357 with three home runs and nine RBIs in his last 15 games. Once again, he appears comfortable after a terrible 2015 season. He showed signs of promise in Spring Training, which allowed him to earn a roster spot, and he hasn’t wasted the opportunity.
Burying the lead (runner)
The Pirates made two exceptional defensive plays tonight that should be acknowledged.
The first came in the fourth inning when second baseman Josh Harrison made a diving stop on a Jay Bruce ground ball and, instead of going for the sure out at first, made a tough throw to second base to get lead runner Joey Votto out.
First baseman Sean Rodriguez made a similar play on a Brandon Phillips ground ball in the ninth inning. Rodriguez’s only play was to second base, but he still deserves credit for the tough throw.
This season, the Pirates have been more willing to get lead runners out on the base paths when these types of plays are made, and it’s a welcome change — especially considering how poor last season was on the defensive end of things.
Francisco Liriano (1-1 4.64 ERA) will face Alfredo Simon (0-2 16.39 ERA). Liriano is 1-5 with a 3.96 ERA in 13 career regular-season starts against the Reds.
Image credit: Joe Sargent