It's still too early to tell where the Juan Nicasio project is headed, but for the second time this season he looked simply dominant and, once again, raised hopes that Pirates could really have something here.
For at least another start, any outside discussion of him eventually ending up at the front end of the bullpen once/if Jameson Taillon (or others) arrives is on hold. Indeed, for all intents and purposes Clint Hurdle put that issue to rest after the game when he said Nicasio will get another "25 or 27 starts to paint a picture" of what he is capable of doing as a starter.
Nicasio was brilliant right out of the chute, striking out the first two batters of the game on seven pitches. For the evening, the right-hander notched six strikeouts on four pitches or less and resolved 13 plate appearances in three pitches or less. Nicasio's final line includes eight strikeouts, one walk and only three hits allowed. His 78 game score is his second Bill James' Gem of the season.
"He was in complete command from the first pitch until he walked off the mound," Hurdle said. "He showed everybody what he is capable of doing tonight."
Relying largely on two pitches, a fastball and slider, Nicasio powered over the Reds lineup on his way to seven shutout innings. It is the first time that a Pirates' starter has gone seven innings since Jonathon Niese did it on April 16.
"The fastball played, it had finish and he moved it around," Hurdle said. "The slider was so solid. Really good stuff coming out of his hand."
Heading into the season, the rub against Nicasio was that he would likely struggle as a starter because he is mostly limited to two-pitches (he threw only two changeups tonight). The third time through the order is typically a challenge for pitchers with a limited arsenal. However, those concerns are yet to manifest in his limited exposure to hitters a third time in a game so far this season. Nicasio has allowed only one hit and a walk in 20 plate appearances the third time through the order.
Displaying a seemingly effortless fastball velocity up in the mid-to-high 90s all night, Nicasio worked quickly on the mound and filled up the strike zone all evening.
"That's one of my main plans right now: to just make sure that when I hit the mound I am working at a quicker pace and I don't give hitters enough time to think about everything," Nicasio said.
Josh Harrison owns the fourth
With the Pirates holding a 1-0 lead heading into the fourth, Josh Harrison took over the game for an inning. In the top half, he made a diving stop to his right and somehow released an over hand toss to second to get the force out.
"A play like that is so important for a pitcher," Nicasio said. "It just gives you that much more [energy] out there."
In the bottom half, Harrison drove a solo home run to right field to bump the Pirates out to a 2-0 lead. It was his first homer since May 15 of last year.
"I knew it had been a while since I hit one, but it wasn't anything where I said, ‘I got to hit a home run,'" Harrison said. "They'll come when they come."
Matt Joyce hit a big two-run home run in the bottom of the seventh that provided some important insurance runs. The ball bounced off of the top of the left field wall before skipping up into the seats.
"[Rick] Sofield told me ‘that's just good clean living,'" Joyce said. "Obviously, I was pumped. It was a great moment."
Joyce now has a .357/.514/.750 line in 37 plate appearances.