Gregory Polanco’s Bat Heats Up in Pirates’ Win Over the Cubs

PITTSBURGH — Gregory Polanco jump-started the Pirates’ offense on Saturday with a two-run home run in the bottom of the first inning against Chicago Cubs starter Jake Arrieta.

Since he injured his ankle crashing into a railing in right field at PNC Park on May 29, Polanco’s offensive game has taken a nosedive.

In the 12 games leading up to Saturday’s, he was hitting .157/.204/.157. His last extra base hit had come on May 28 and his decline in outcomes came with a precipitous decline in exit velocity.

Polanco flipped that around on Saturday, driving an 0-1 pitch from Arrieta straight out to the seats atop the Clemente Wall in right field. He hit that one dead on the screws, sending it out at 106 mph.

Polanco also hit a 100 mph ground ball to Addison Russell and a 97.9 mph double to right field. After scuffling for the better part of two weeks, Polanco’s power stroke seemed to be back in shape for the first time in a long time. Polanco was hitting the ball so hard that the Cubs intentionally walked him his third time up.

“Some real good at bats from Gregory,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Sweet swing on the homer, the double. To get an intentional walk, he hasn’t been in that position. They just put him on and passed on him. He’s continued to work hard. He did some quality work out there today as (Josh) Bell did, as (Adam) Frazier did. It paid off for all of them.”

Polanco had some hard-hit balls on Friday night, as well, despite going 0 for 5. Polanco had a 104 mph groundout and a 98 mph line out. Always something of a streaky hitter, Polanco could be getting hot at just the right time for the Pirates.

PUMPED UP NOVA

Ivan Nova completed seven innings, allowing three runs on six hits while striking out six. It started out like a typical super-smooth Nova start, as he cruised through the first four innings in 47 pitches.

He found some trouble in the fifth, when he gave up a two-run home run to mound opponent Jake Arrieta and even more in the seventh, when Russell hit a solo home run and Jason Heyward singled and found his way into scoring position.

Nova got Willson Contreras to hit a weak ground ball and the struck out John Jay after falling behind, 3-0, to finish the frame. The usually reserved Nova gave a shout and a fist pump.

“There was a lot of emotion,” Nova said. “I got a strikeout in the situation I needed to get a guy out. I knew that we had someone in the bullpen. I didn’t want to leave the game without completing my job.”

Nova was able to harness that emotion, as well. His final pitch to Jay was clocked at 97.1 mph. The hardest pitch he’d thrown all season before Saturday failed to break 96.

“The guys told me that, and I said it was smart pitching,” Nova said. “I don’t need to be throwing 97 from the first pitch. My job is to locate my pitches and pitch 92 or 93. If I need to go harder, I feel good enough to throw.”

NO NICASIO

Hurdle said after the game that the team was without the services of reliever Juan Nicasio. Hurdle said Nicasio was dealing with some fatigue and the team needed to give him the night off.

Nicasio had thrown just six pitches Friday night and allowed four runs on three hits and an intentional walk without recording an out. He had his right elbow wrapped in ice after the game Friday.

Without Nicasio, Daniel Hudson faced the first two batters of the eighth, getting Anthony Rizzo to fly out and giving up a double to Ian Happ, before handing the ball to Felipe Rivero for a five-out save.

“That’s more than I wanted him to pitch,” Hurdle said. “However, the run got to second and it changed the dynamic of the situation.”

CLEANING UP MESSES

One of the features of Rivero’s run of multi-inning saves is that he keeps coming in with runners on base. He leads the team with 16 inherited runners and he’s stranded 14 of them — 87.5 percent. That’s been a big part of his success this season, if not an unheralded part.

“I just trying to stay calm,” Rivero said. “I’m just trying to make quality pitches. They’re going to hit a ground ball or a fly ball or whatever. … I’m confident walking out of the bullpen. This year has been awesome for me, coming out at any point in the game and knowing what I’ve been doing, just trying to be the same guy.”

DEEP SIX

Nova pitched through the sixth inning for his 14th consecutive start dating back to the beginning of the season. He said he takes a lot of pride in being able to help the workload of the bullpen.

That was especially important Saturday because the Pirates were without the services of Nicasio.

“You want to go deep into games,” Nova said. “Especially to give the team a chance to win games. Today, I think we had Nicasio out. If I would have known that, I would have kept going.”

  • I have to admit when I am wrong. I didn’t want Nova to be signed since seeing him fail time and time again with the Yankees. However, he has proven me wrong. He is a quality pitcher that I guess needed to feel wanted and have a change in clubs to do it. I wish him well going forward.

    • I am almost the exact opposite. I was excited when the Pirates traded for him, almost too excited. Then I actually looked at his stats with NYY and started to wonder why the Pirates would trade for him. Then he absolutely won me over with not only how he pitched, but how he comported himself once he arrived in Pittsburgh, and after about 4 games I was calling for NH to re-sign him. Now, I hope he retires a Pirate, not because of anything he does on the field, but just the way he has embraced pitching in Pittsburgh and taking a small payday to continue doing so.

  • Anybody who paid attention to the broadcast last night might have heard that the majority of MLB orginizations have serious bullpen problems. So, it isn’t going to be easy for anyone to go outside and bring in a fix.

    • calling Chad Kuhl . . . your bullpen needs you

    • Time to throw Santana into the fire. I’d like to see what he can do as a 7th/8th inning guy.

    • It seems like we have some pretty good arms around the system…I just can’t fathom we don’t have a way to get 4 good ones going at the same time again…or maybe I’m still spoiled from when it all seemed to be going so well for 3 years

  • There is an obvious bullpen issue where the team needs at least one more reliable arm, which is fine because bullpen arms are among the most attainable players to aquire at the deadline (I’d like to see Justin Wilson come back to replace Watson), but knowing that the team has a bullpen issue and that our entire pitching depth is rookies and that’s with two rookies in the rotation already, then I think you have to rely on Nova, Cole, and Taillon to go as deep in their starts as possible. Let Nova break 100 pitches! If he pitches his way into a bit of trouble in the 8th, then decide to bring in Hudson or Rivero. If he gets through the 8th clean then you save Hudson or Rivero for another day. Hindsight being 20/20 and all that…

    • According to Baseball Reference, Nova has never pitched more than 170 innings in a season. So, if he keeps up this streak of always going 6+, he may wear down by season’s end. If the NL Central remains this close, and the Pirates go on a nice hot stretch, they could be sitting at the top of the division. That being said, Nova would need to be ready to pitch into the post-season, and I wouldn’t want him to be running the innings count up.

      • The Pirates usually find ways to get guys rest before they need it. They can get creative around the AS break if they need to. Skip a start here and there. Plus, I wouldn’t worry too much about the post season, there is a ton of things that would need to go right for the Pirates to be in the postseason.

      • It’s a fair point to bring up, but it doesn’t appear to me that Nova is the type of pitcher that gets arm weary if he follows his routine. The guy seems to put out slightly more energy than a sloth.

        Anyway, 32 starts projects to about 219 innings. I imagine if CH/RS had any concerns, they’d probably skip a couple of starts in Sept, assuming Kingham or someone else is up to take those innings.

        Kind of hard to believe in 7 years with NYY, he’s only had one post season. Relieved for 6 innings in the resumption of the rain delay game and did well, then came out of his only start in 2nd inning with forearm tightness. So maybe it’s a concern. Or maybe it isn’t.

      • Read elsewhere that Nova’s 6 inning streak was the longest since Eddie Soloman in the eighties. He’s a competitor.

    • Thumbs up to Justin Wilson.
      Thumbs down to Hudson in the 8th.

      • You have to have someone pitch the 8th. Hudson has been the second best reliever at keeping runners off of base for the last month and a half. Who else would you prefer?

        • Nicasio

          • Nicasio was not available, and for the last month and a half Hudson has been the better pitcher. I take no joy in saying that, because I am not a fan of Hudson.

            • I saw Nicasio was unavailable, but I thought the 8th inning was a general issue. IMO, Hudson has been used to hide him from late innings work. Trouble is, the BP has several guys that need to be hidden.

              • True, but at some point, you have to start moving Hudson back into a bigger role in the bullpen. The Pirates also need to find at least 1 other late inning reliever, no way they can make it with just Rivero and Nicasio.

                • why not give Santana a chance?

                  • Good question, I’ll answer a couple of ways.
                    1) My personal response: No idea, probably a good idea to get him working in that role now since he will be there for the better part of the next 5.
                    2) Hurdle: The young man just came up from the minors, like the stuff, good spin, nice sink, heavy…..very heavy, just trying to get his feet under him, head is swimming, lots to like, not quite there yet. Moving nicely towards that role.
                    3) Reality: Probably somewhere between the two. He should be to that point by seasons end, but he is also probably still spinning a little out of control being up in the majors. You have to remember 3 years ago, this guy was pitching in the DSL. Let him get more comfortable then start sliding him in to the later innings.

    • I would like to see Mark Melancon back, but that isn’t happening just like Wilson isn’t.

      • Melancon is dancin with the AARP club out West that’s finally broke…and making a fine paycheck while doing so…even after the Cali taxes. Lol

    • I love Nova’s response, if he had known Nicasio was not available, he would have gone back out.

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