With home runs by Josh Harrison, Colin Moran and Elias Diaz and a quality start from Ivan Nova, the Pirates beat the Cincinnati Reds 6-2 Saturday and snapped a streak of eight straight series losses that dates back almost a month to the day.
“If somebody would have told me you’re going to lose eight series, you’d think you’re going to be horrible,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We’re not horrible. We’re fighting. And we believe that our best baseball is in front of us. You’ve got to go play it, though.”
The Pirates got on the board in the first when Starling Marte brought Harrison home on a ground out, but the Reds got that run back in the second on an Eugenio Suarez leadoff homer.
That would be the only mistake on Nova’s (4-5) ledger, finishing with six innings pitched, five hits allowed, three walks- one intentional- three strikeouts and two wild pitches.
Moran and Diaz launched their solo shots in the third and fourth innings, respectively, hitting Reds’ starter Luis Castillo hard his second time through the order.
“All the time, you have to be ready for the fastball,” Diaz said. “That’s what I did. That’s what Moran did.”
Castillo (4-8) lasted five innings of three run ball.
The Bucs pounced for three insurance runs in the sixth, coming on an RBI knock from pinch-hitter David Freese and a two run homer for Harrison.
“Power’s been down. Hopefully the power is starting to kick back in a little bit,” manager Hurdle said. “We have been seeing some pitches. We’ve been hitting pitches. Our situational hitting’s been better.”
Steven Brault pitched two scoreless innings in relief. Michael Feliz closed the game out, but allowed a home run to Brandon Dixon- the first of his career.
The Pirates are now back at .500 with a 35-35 record.
No Curve? No Problem
Saturday was Nova’s second consecutive quality start after coming off the disabled list June 10, but it was a very different type of outing according to the righty and his skipper. The most notable difference was the absence of his curveball Saturday, forcing him to rely on a mix primarily of his four-seam and two-seam fastballs and his changeup.
Nova got only one swinging strike on his 10 curves thrown. Two wound up as wild pitches.
Fortunately for Nova, he was able to survive on mostly heaters. He said he has better control with his fastball now than he did before going on the DL with a ring finger injury.
“When something is not right, sometimes it’s hard to locate,” Nova said.
Hurdle believes it’s an encouraging sign to see Nova work effectively even without all four of his pitches.
“The one common thread [between these starts] is that he’s starting to eliminate hitters quick,” Hurdle said. “...The other common thread is first pitch strikes.”
Nova threw a first pitch strike to 17 of his 27 batters faced and retired 10 on three pitches or fewer.
The Pirates will go for the sweep Sunday at 1:35 p.m.. Joe Musgrove (2-1, 2.16) will try to stay perfect at home against Anthony DeSclafani (1-1, 5.40).
1. Diaz and Francisco Cervelli have combined for 14 home runs this year. The last time Pirates’ backstops hit that many was 2013 (20).
2. Pirates pitchers have 45 wild pitches this year- the most in the National League. Entering play Saturday, the next closest teams in the Senior Circuit were the Phillies and Rockies at 34 each.
3. All three of the Pirates home runs had a launch angle of at least 30 degrees (as measured by Baseball Savant). Moran and Diaz’s were measured at 31 degrees, and Harrison’s was 30 degrees. The only other time the Pirates hit multiple home runs with a launch angle at least that high was Apr. 25.