PITTSBURGH – Juan Nicasio showed consistent velocity en route to seven very effective innings for the Pirates tonight, as they defeated the Cincinnati Reds 4-1 at PNC Park.
This was Nicasio’s best start of the season, and his game score of 78 was his highest since a 9-0 win over Kansas City when he pitched for the Colorado Rockies in 2011.
Nicasio was effective from the start, sitting at 95-96 MPH with his fastball, touching 98 more than once. He struck out Zack Cozart and Eugenio Suarez swinging with fastballs for the first two outs, and followed that by mixing in some sliders while striking out the side in the second.
Perhaps the most impressive of his eight strikeouts were the two that came in the 6th inning, including a strikeout of Joey Votto looking at a 2-2 inside fastball at 95 MPH.
When asked about finding consistency after working from the bullpen, Nicasio said through an interpreter, “being a starter you have to focus on going the distance, but really nothing changes, [I’m] just making sure that I produce well.”
He was effective in the zone, throwing 63 of his 97 pitches for strikes, surrendering only three hits — one of the infield variety — and a lone walk. Clint Hurdle also noted that Nicasio retired 13 of his 25 batters faced with three pitches or less.
An even more encouraging sign was Nicasio’s ability to maintain his fastball velocity throughout tonight’s start. He regularly hit 94 MPH and touched 95 in his final inning of work in the 7th.
“Normally you can tell if he’s trying to pace himself. He’ll back down and throw some more two-seamers.” Clint Hurdle said after the game. “He’s a strong man; he’s built for endurance. So tonight he showed you the velocity.”
As in his previous starts, Nicasio worked almost exclusively with his fastball and slider, getting a total of 13 swings and misses on the evening. He threw only three changeups, none of which were put in play. Despite the limited usage, Nicasio expressed more confidence in the changeup, but noted that as hitters become more aware of it, it becomes increasingly important for him to hit his spots with the pitch.
Harrison, Joyce Go Deep
David Freese opened the scoring in the third inning with a two-out bloop single to right field, scoring Jordy Mercer from second, but the rally ended with a nice play from Eugenio Suarez to rob Starling Marte of his own RBI opportunity.
With two outs in the fourth inning, Josh Harrison went opposite field on a 3-1 fastball from Dan Straily for his first home run of the season. The home run was his first since May 15th last year at Wrigley Field in an 11-10, extra-innings loss to the Cubs. Harrison mentioned with a laugh that he found out after the game that he was the Pirate with the longest streak without a home run.
“I knew when I came of the DL last year that I didn’t hit any,” he said. “They’ll come when they come. It’s one of those things you can’t worry about.”
Matt Joyce hit his second pinch-hit home run of the season, which just cleared the left field wall near the foul pole. Joyce said that he was looking to be aggressive on a fastball in a 3-1 count after J.J. Hoover threw a curveball for a strike to start the at-bat. After struggling mightily last season, Joyce is now hitting .357/.514/.750 with nine walks against eight strikeouts in 37 plate appearances for the Pirates.
**Jordy Mercer has now reached base in 11 straight games, after a 2-for-3 performance tonight. Mercer is now hitting .317/.389/.415, but his .357 BABIP indicates that he may see some regression toward his career averages in the near future.
**Gregory Polanco had his seven-game hitting streak snapped, due in large part to some strong glove work from Joey Votto in the fourth and seventh innings.
**In contrast to his mile-highs in Denver earlier this week, Andrew McCutchen did not have a memorable evening at the plate, going 0-for-4 with two strikeouts. He also misplayed a ball hit over his head with two outs in the ninth, allowing the Reds’ only run to score.
**The Pirates have hit at least one double in each of their first 23 games this season, which is now the second-longest streak to begin a season in franchise history, behind only the 2008 club, which did so in its first 27 games.
**Jared Hughes joined the team today, and the Pirates are expected to activate him tomorrow.