PITTSBURGH — Felipe Rivero’s appearance on Friday in the Pirates’ 5-2 walk-off win over the St. Louis Cardinals might have been an afterthought.
Rivero pitched a scoreless ninth inning, holding the door open for the offense and Josh Bell kicked it down with his three-run, walk-off home run.
It’s almost that the amazing has become ordinary when it comes to Rivero. Friday, he sat down the Cardinals’ No. 4, 5 and 6 hitters with just eight pitches — including a three-pitch strikeout of Stephen Piscotty with a fastball, changeup, changeup that sent Piscotty to a knee.
The inning took Rivero just eight pitches.
According to manager Clint Hurdle, that efficiency and command of the strike zone has been the biggest difference-maker for Rivero this season. He’s always been able to throw 100 and he’s always had a nasty slider. But now he has the fastball, the slider and the changeup all working and he’s throwing them all for strikes when he wants to.
“We talked about it last year,” Hurdle said. “That was one of his big takeaways in his exit interview. He wanted to tighten up his command, throw more strikes, pound the zone and be around the zone. He took it into spring training and he was very functional with it in spring training. It wasn’t just throwing fastballs. It was throwing breaking stuff in offensive counts. Throwing 3-2 changeups. There was no fear of a walk. He just wanted to get to the point where he felt like he could throw any pitch at any time. He’s carried that into the season. The role he’s in, it plays to his advantage. There’s nothing you can set on and you’ve got to get ready for three digits.”
That efficiency has been a big help to the Pirates’ bullpen because it means that when Hurdle needs to use Rivero in a multi-inning role, he can, and when he needs to use Rivero multiple days in a row, he can do that, too. Rivero leads the majors with 45 appearances and his 0.74 ERA is the lowest of any reliever with 30 innings or more.
NOVA WANTS 200
Hurdle said on Sunday that Ivan Nova will be the last man in the Pirates’ starting rotation for the second half in order to give him the longest possible break. Nova is on pace to greatly exceed his career high in innings pitched, but he says he feels good and he has a goal he’s trying to reach. He wants to throw 200 innings.
“That’s the main goal for every starting pitcher,” he said. “You look at the news, when they trade a pitcher or they sign somebody, the first thing they say is that the guy threw 200 innings the last couple of years. I’ve never thrown 200 before, so I set that goal for myself. I’ve been putting in a lot of hard work. Hopefully, this is the year that I get there.”
To that end, Nova said he’s changed his workout regimen in order to better prepare himself for a full season’s worth of work. That’s something that has taken on increased importance in his mind as he’s gained experience in the majors.
“I work harder than ever now,” he said. “I feel really good. I’m still hungry. I want to go out there, compete every time and I want to win games.”
PLACE FOR MARTE
Starling Marte will return to the Pirates’ lineup on Tuesday and he’ll be playing in left field. But where he returns within the lineup is still up in the air.
“He’s hit leadoff and he’s hit second (during his rehab) because we wanted to maximize the opportunity of the at-bats,” Hurdle said. “I definitely want to put him in one spot in the lineup. We’re not going to move him around. We’ll see how the play works out. If he has a spark right away, maybe he we can ride it. If it’s a challenge, maybe we’ll back away.”
Marte will most likely be replacing Adam Frazier in the starting lineup, which could lead to him hitting leadoff, which is where Frazier has hit since assuming a starting role.
HELP FOR REPLAY
Twice on Friday, the Pirates had a video review go the other way on a fair/foul call. Gregory Polanco’s fly ball down the right field line that would have easily been a home run and nearly left the stadium was correctly called a foul ball. But a poor video review angle that was displayed on the scoreboard left the fans in the stands feeling that the Pirates had been shortchanged.
Then, another ball off Polanco’s bat glanced off the glove of Jedd Gyorko in shallow left field and landed in foul territory. The Pirates challenged that call and it was allowed to stand but was not confirmed.
“There’s nothing easy about an umpire’s job,” Hurdle said. “If you watch the replay, the umpire is right in line. He’s in sight of the play. He’s in the best position he could be in. What they’re set up to do is have an imaginary line up the chalk line. The ball goes up and they make a call. His call stood. It was hard to differentiate inside when we watched it from three different angles. On most of them, it looked like it was a little bit foul when the glove touched the ball.”
Part of the reason why the replays didn’t look conclusive is that PNC Park doesn’t have cameras that run straight down the foul lines that would give umpires and fans the most conclusive view of a fair/foul call. Hurdle thinks that the MLB is probably only one important call away from those being mandatory.
“I think there’s only a couple that (have them),” he said. “If it’s a call that can twist a game late, with teams chasing pennants or in the playoffs, sometimes it can have more traction. We’ll see. … They’re trying to find ways to make the replay system the best it can be and the most efficient it can be.”
Taillon (2.73) vs. Lance Lynn (3.61)
— Alan Saunders (@ASaunders_PGH) July 15, 2017