Juan Nicasio Making Progress as Pirates Stifle Reds

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.

Other Notes

**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.

  • I have to wonder if Glasnow hears/reads things like this and goes ” 3 changeups, huh?”

    • If he does, I wonder if he looks at Nicasio’s other starts this year when the fastball/slider combo isn’t working as well.

      There’s a reason people are calling for Nicasio as one of the guys to be replaced.

  • This time of year I find myself constantly trying to make adjustments for the quality of competition. Pirates have been facing some very poor pitching, and while Nicasio’s start was very good and encouraging, the Reds are really scuffling at the plate.

    But even if it might be a bit of mirage, the W-L record isn’t.

    • The Pirates have made Ace pitchers want to cry this season. In hitters parks they have bombed the ball out, and they have maintained a very good offensive approach throughout the season. You are trying to overanalyze things, but as good as their offense has been at times this month, their pitching staff has been nearly equally as bad.

      • The combined ERA and FIP of the starting pitchers the Pirates have faced through 23 games is 5.24 and 4.81. They have faced some really poor pitching.

    • 9 of the next 14 are against Cards and Cubs – other 5 vs Reds…
      Go 4-1 with Reds
      5 and 4 with the Cubs Cards
      And get Cutch started and they will be in very good position to compete for Wild card.

      The rest of May is not very scary – but beginning June 6 the have a string of 22 games against very good teams.

      I am frankly pleasantly surprised so far

  • The acquisition late in spring training of Freese was absolutely brilliant or maybe a DUH move. How in the heck was he still available?
    Also the worst OBP in the lineup last night was ‘Cutch at .353! The worst SLG% was Cervelli at .389 but he had the best OBP.

  • An excellent write-up with plenty of info regarding the most important guy in the game, Juan Nicasio. Third Quality Start, and has proven to be a very nice option for the Pirates. so far in 2016. I would have liked to see he and the BP walk away with a combined shutout last night.

  • Matt Joyce has been Ruthian to start the season. What a boost.

    • Ruthian I am not sure of, but a clutch hit in a 2 – 0 game when we needed some insurance heading into the BP. With only 3 scheduled off days in May, I would not be surprised to see him get a little more PT as Clint tries to give guys a rest.

      The Pirates carrying 13 pitchers has helped to spread the workload around, but a few more games from the SP’s like Nicasio gave us last night will be much appreciated.

      • Good comment emjayinTN. Not just the fact of resting players with only 3 off days in May, but the most important concern is the BP with only 3 off days. We know the BP is overworked, so it is very important for the SP to go at least 6 innings every night.

  • I would’ve been disappointed if Bucs couldn’t get to Hoover, given JJ is currently the worst reliever in MLB.

  • That was a vintage Jay Hay homer by the way.