PITTSBURGH — On Wednesday against the Tampa Bay Rays, Ivan Nova, the Pirates most consistent and only veteran starter, faltered. The rookies picked him up.

Nova allowed two runs on seven hits while scuffling through an uncharacteristically short five innings of work. He snapped a 15-start streak of starts with six or more innings pitched, and even the outs, usually quick and efficient grounders, were instead hard-hit balls.

But after Nova gave up a run on two hits in the top of the first, the Pirates offense let loose with a four-run barrage that gave the team the lead for good in what became a 6-2, series-equaling victory.

Powering the offensive surge were the young guys, as rookies Josh Bell, Elias Diaz, and Jose Osuna drove in five of the six runs.

In the first, hitting fifth, sixth, and seventh, they struck in back-to-back-to-back fashion. After two-out walks by Andrew McCutchen and David Freese, Osuna doubled, Bell walked, Freese scored on a wild pitch, and Diaz doubled to plate four runs.

Even on a night that Nova called “not the best one,” a four-run cushion was all he needed.

“As soon as they gave me that lead, I said I didn’t want to give it away,” Nova said. “They kept putting some runs up there. They gave me six runs and I left in the fifth more than comfortable knowing that the bullpen could come in behind me and take those four innings for me.”

Rookies contributing are nothing new for the Pirates, who have the eighth-youngest team in baseball with at least a half-dozen players that still count as rookies. But they haven’t shown up in a big way offensively.

The Pirates brought up a wave of young pitchers over the last two seasons, with Chad Kuhl, Trevor Williams, and Jameson Taillon matriculating to the majors, and Steven Brault, Tyler Glasnow, Edgar Santana, and Dovydas Neverauskas getting experience, as well.

But the same thing has happened on offense, perhaps with less fanfare. Bell, Diaz, Osuna, and Max Moroff all started on Wednesday. Adam Frazier was given the day off on the bench. That’s five of the team’s 12 position players that were still with Triple-A Indianapolis one year ago.

Osuna has been a part-time player in the outfield and it took injuries to Chris Stewart and Francisco Cervelli for Diaz to get playing time, so the effect of the youngsters in the lineup hasn’t been as profound as it has been on the pitching staff. But it’s there.

According to wRC+, Josh Harrison and Andrew McCutchen are the team’s best hitters. Next are Osuna, Bell, and Frazier in that order. It’s to the point that the young guys might start to push for playing time.

Frazier seems to have locked in a spot in the outfield, until at least Starling Marte returns and both he and Osuna are hitting better than Polanco.

Much like last year, when the Pirates had four or five pitchers come up and contribute, this year the hitters are getting their chance to come up as a unit and succeed.

“It’s fun,” Bell said. “We all had that same ream, looking back four to five years ago, playing together in West Virginia, going up through Double-A together, Triple-A. For us to be winning ballgames up here instills a lot of pride in us.”

That pride is a two-way street, as well.

“They can play,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “They’re good players. They came out of our minor-league system. We’re proud of them. They’re getting opportunity for real reps up here at real times.”

DIAZ GETS IT DONE

While Diaz has impressed the most with his bat since his most recent recall — and that streak continued Wednesday as he went 2 for 4 with two RBIs — he’s most well-known for his defensive work and he showed off his ability to work with a pitcher.

With his fastball lacking its trademarked downward angle, Nova was scuffling through three innings before he and Diaz made an adjustment to get him back on the right track.

“We’re getting used to each other,” Nova said. “You don’t expect to be on the right page with a guy right away. We’ve been feeling more comfortable with each other. My command wasn’t there today. It wasn’t that he wasn’t calling the right pitches, I just didn’t throw strikes.”

Hurdle has spoken at length about his experiences as a young catcher being thrust into a role where he had to catch veteran pitchers. He was impressed with the way Diaz handled things Wednesday.

“Diaz has worked with Nova a couple of times,” Hurdle said. “That was a work together. That was a joint effort. There’s not many times a catcher has had to help him go out there and draw things up in the dirt. Diaz was able to do that as well.”

NOTES

Bell’s solo home run was his 15th of the season, which tied Ralph Kiner for a Pirates first-half rookie record. … The Pirates bullpen pitched four scoreless innings, but to do so, Hurdle used Daniel Hudson, Tony Watson, Juan Nicasio, and Felipe Rivero with a four-run lead. Hudson, Nicasio, and Rivero have now pitched in consecutive games. … Moroff went 0 for 4 with two strikeouts to drop his season average to .100.

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20 COMMENTS

  1. Tampa Bay is a very impressive team. Bucs not even facing maybe their best pitcher Faria. Thought they had a smart approach to Nova.. taking hacks early since he’s in the zone so much… maybe a more experienced catcher makes some adjustments to that. Loved the way Nova battled through though. Kuhl needs to learn something from that start

  2. I can’t see Moroff staying with the club after Marte returns, so there should be no need to send Osuna or Diaz back down. I’m not convinced the Bucs should be sellers at this point since the division is so up for grabs if we can get hot. Maybe what we could do is use our trade bait (Watson, Bastardo, maybe even Glasnow) to find a respectable #4 starter, move Kuhl to the pen and let Williams continue as #5 (or bring up Brault). I’m not sure who might be available as a 4th arm, but I think it is worth a look.

    • Or maybe see if we can bring up Brault, Kuhl to the pen and maybe trade for a much better late inning reliever to bridge the 9th. decisions, decisions…Got to love this time of year…

      • Can we give him a real chance before we go there? Sitting on the bench only helps his paycheck, not his development. He was on a hot streak in AAA and the first thing we did was throw him on the bench. Bad handling of a young player imo

  3. What happens to Osuna when Marte comes back? IMO, he has earned the right to play every day. I am not sure putting him in a 1B RF backup role is beneficial, so does he get sent down? Does NH step up his efforts to trade one of his OFers?

    I only bring this up because, on a team that struggles to score runs on a nightly bases, sitting one of your more productive hitters seems counterproductive.

    • Well stated, but the word on the street is that the shoppers are only looking for pitching, so the market could be ripe for Watson & Bastardo simply because they are LHRP’s, and Gerrit Cole if the Astro’s, LAD’s, or Yankees are serious. Urias will be out out at least a year or more, and the Yankees could add him to Severino and Montgomery at the top end and Keep Sabathia, Pineda, and Tanaka in the 3-5. CC is gone after 2017.

      It all depends on how management views their chances to win the NL Central, but if they choose to hold onto Cole, they will miss a golden opportunity. They had losing records in April and May and June is .500 with 2 games left.

    • I don’t think Osuna will be the one to go down. He’s the only true 4th OF and, if not counting Diaz, the only decent RH bench bat. We’re carrying an extra pen guy and Marte’s return frees up Frazier to the be swiss army knife guy, so it’ll be a back up IF (Moroff) who goes, or someone in pen.

      I’m not wild about idea of Osuna being a regular starter as he’ll be exposed much like Frazier has been, but he should be playing more than once a week.

      • This is a good point. Frazier has looked over exposed recently. Id like to see him and osuna getting more evenly split time until marte is back. Nothing wrong with having two guys on the bench (plus the surprisingly good PH Jaso) who can hit for a change.

      • Who will get sent down and who will lose PT are two different questions though. The 25th man is the one who will go down. McCutchen, Marte, and Bell will definitely play, leaving Polanco, Osuna, and Jaso to fight over 1B/RF backup time. The way the last 12 months have been for Polanco, I wouldn’t mind him getting a stint at AAA to try to get his game back.

    • He is our Craig Wilson 2.0…it’s feasible to still get him in 5 nights a week if they decide his bat must play…(and I agree with you that he should)

  4. Diaz should be starting nearly every game with Cervelli as back up. He’s just better overall, better arm and better bat.

  5. How does Bell do what he does? The swing on his home run looked terrible. Just awful. But then the ball finds the seats.

    His strength is truly something to marvel at.

    • It did look awkward, but he was trying to get his hands in on an inside pitch in order to try to barrel the ball – maybe a 6 of 10 for style points, but definitely a 10 on results. Not the first time I wondered about his swings, but what’s that old saying “different strokes for different folks”

    • He makes everything look awkward, although that particular swing he did an excellent job getting his hands in and squared that up for a HR. He looked really bad later in the game with a swinging k from the left side. His defense has really improved and he doesn’t look as awkward on that side of the ball….although, he still tends to drift too far towards 2b at times. Overall, I’m pleased with his growth.

    • boy I disagree, that was a beautiful HR swing last night. The ability to get his hands in close to his body in order to get the barrel on the ball is a special ability. His strikeout was bad, but again, the other night from the left side, he got a base hit on a ball about 8″ inside off the plate by doing that same thing.

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