'Marvel'ous day: Bucs prospect shines in debut

September 8th, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- A few minutes after his first Major League game ended, James Marvel texted his parents and asked them to meet him by the Pirates’ dugout, along the third-base line at PNC Park. He was greeted by a crowd of about 40 people, family and friends who flew into town on late notice just to see him pitch.

Sunday was special from start to finish for Marvel, even though the Pirates lost to the Cardinals, 2-0. He woke up with what he called “good nerves.” After a solid debut, he boarded a flight to San Francisco knowing he’ll stick in Pittsburgh’s rotation the rest of the season.

But nothing topped the 20 minutes he spent outside, surrounded by family and friends, taking pictures and hugging everyone in sight.

“Just hearing what everybody individually had to say to me makes me realize, certainly -- and I knew this before -- but I didn’t get here alone,” Marvel said. “All the people that love and support me and have just poured an incredible amount of effort into my career. Those moments were incredible.”

Marvel did everything in his power to get to the mound at PNC Park on Sunday afternoon. Drafted in the 36th round four years ago out of Duke University after a college career shortened by injuries, all he did during his ascent through the Pirates’ system was get outs. He recorded 15 of them in his debut while allowing two runs on four hits and two walks.

“There’s nothing to not be pleased about in his outing,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “Unpredictable, worked fast, efficient, wasn’t afraid of the barrel, challenged hitters, got after ‘em. … Took the sting out of the bats. I thought he did a fine job first time out. Fun to watch.”

Marvel doesn’t have a prime-time prospect pedigree. He doesn’t have an arsenal of overpowering pitches. But the 25-year-old right-hander took advantage of every opportunity given to him this season, advancing from Double-A to Triple-A in July then claiming a spot in Pittsburgh’s banged-up rotation for the final three weeks of the season.

“He will be prepared, and he will give us everything he has,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “And we’re looking forward to seeing how he does.”

After starting the final game of the season for Triple-A Indianapolis on Monday, Marvel returned home to Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. He kept his arm ready, just in case, by throwing a baseball off a fence at a local tennis court on Wednesday. After a late-night phone call, he drove to Pittsburgh and threw a bullpen session at PNC Park on Thursday.

Then came Sunday, when Marvel took the mound with about 60 people in the stands cheering for him. His mother, Julie, kept score in a book that catalogued Marvel’s outings from Double-A Altoona to Triple-A Indianapolis and now Pittsburgh. His father, John, an executive editor at NFL Media, spent the first NFL Sunday of the year watching his son live out his baseball dream.

“When I called my parents the night I found out I was coming up here, those two calls were really special,” Marvel said. “When I talked to my dad and then when we found out I was pitching on Sunday, he said, ‘Well, I’ll be there. I might lose my job, but I’ll be there.’”

With his funky wind-up and a 91 mph fastball, Marvel retired 11 of the first 12 batters he faced before Marcell Ozuna recorded the Cardinals’ first hit of the day in the fourth inning. He didn’t allow a run until the fifth, when Matt Carpenter doubled to left and scored on Harrison Bader’s single. His debut came to an end in the sixth after he walked Kolten Wong and served up an RBI double to Paul Goldschmidt.

“Credit to them. I thought they put some swings on some good pitches,” Marvel said. “I thought I threw a good pitch to Goldschmidt there, 3-2, and that’s why he’s Paul Goldschmidt. It was fun competing against those guys.”

Marvel had a slim chance of winning his debut, however, as Cardinals right-hander Jack Flaherty continued his second-half dominance by striking out 10 over eight scoreless innings. Since the All-Star break, Flaherty has posted a 0.76 ERA in 11 starts.

“It’s been going on for two months. He was as advertised from what we had watched coming in here,” Hurdle said. “We got to see it, feel it and face it in the batter’s box.”

Hurdle, Frazier ejected

The Pirates felt the Cardinals received some additional help over the weekend, particularly from home-plate umpire Roberto Ortiz in the seventh inning on Sunday. Hurdle was ejected for arguing with Ortiz after two questionable called strikes against Adam Frazier. After the next pitch, another called strike, Frazier was ejected.

“It was just a culmination of things. Everybody is out there trying to do the best they can,” Hurdle said. “Just didn’t have a very good weekend behind the plate. I thought we were short on a lot of calls behind home plate.”

Marte exits with injury

Center fielder Starling Marte, putting together the best offensive season of his career, exited in the ninth inning with a sprained left wrist.

Marte’s wrist bent awkwardly as he rolled over in center after recording the third out in the ninth inning. Unable to hit, Marte was replaced in the lineup by pinch-hitter Elias Diaz in the bottom of the ninth.

Marte said his wrist was only sprained, not broken. He hopes to return to the lineup soon.