KANSAS CITY -- Johan Oviedo's shutout was never supposed to happen.
At 97 pitches after a career high eight innings, Pirates manager Derek Shelton didn’t plan to send the 25-year-old pitcher back out to the mound.
But catcher Endy Rodríguez had different thoughts, and he let them be known. His lobbying allowed Oviedo to complete the first shutout of his career in the Pirates’ 5-0 win over the Royals on Monday at Kauffman Stadium.
“[Endy] stood behind me as Oscar [Marin] and I were talking about it and just kept saying ‘Let’s go, he’s fine. Let’s go, he’s fine,’" Shelton said. "So I looked at Oscar and said, ‘All right, let’s go.’”
The decision turned out to be right. Oviedo set down the Royals in order in the ninth -- something he did six times -- to secure the shutout. As soon as Salvador Perez grounded out for the final out, Rodríguez ran straight to Oviedo and flew into his arms, wrapping his leg around his waist and going airborne.
“Oh, it was incredible,” Rodríguez said. “It was the biggest hug of my life.”
Oviedo added: “It’s a moment I can't describe to be honest. I’m just really excited, really happy with him and the whole team.”
The biggest reason Shelton gave in to Rodríguez was because of how dominant Oviedo was through the first eight innings. No Royal reached second base -- just the second time that has happened in the Majors this season (excluding no-hitters), and Oviedo never faced more than four batters in an inning. He notched five strikeouts, but mostly pitched to contact and got the Royals to swing early to force quick outs.
Oviedo had never recorded an out in an eighth inning before this gem, and his 154 1/3 innings this season are more than he has thrown combined over his first three years in the big leagues. But with an extra day of rest and his low-stress innings, Shelton felt comfortable letting Oviedo reach a career-high 112 pitches.
“It’s not like he had to battle out of a bases-loaded jam or had a couple of high-stress innings,” Shelton said. “He did a good job when he needed to with two outs by putting the ball on the ground, and having the two quick innings really helped.”
But a 106-mph liner off the bat of Bobby Witt Jr. in the sixth -- one of only three hard-hit balls (95+ mph) the Royals hit off Oviedo -- almost changed that. With a runner on first with one out, Witt smoked what looked like an extra-base hit that would’ve allowed th Royals’ first run to score. Instead, Ke’Bryan Hayes made a backhanded stop and threw to second, getting the forceout.
“That changes the whole course of the game because if that ball goes down the line, they’re going to score a run,” Shelton said. “With the way [Witt] runs, he’s probably ending up at third. So, we’re in a whole different situation [without that play]. His at-bats were really good, but I think the play down the line was the game-changer.”
Hayes, who is batting .323 with five homers and 18 RBIs in August, finished 4-for-4 with a walk. He hit an RBI double in the third and later scored a run in the third, giving Oviedo a little more cushion to be able to finish the game.
“[Oviedo] was attacking, getting ahead,” Hayes said. “He has really good stuff, so whenever he is able to get ahead it’s going to be really hard for them to get multiple guys on throughout the game.”
It was just the third time Shelton has allowed a starter to pitch the ninth inning since becoming manager ahead of the 2020 season. All three went on to finish complete games (Steven Brault in 2020 and Mitch Keller in 2023).
Oviedo shoved to make it happen, but his battery-mate made sure he got the chance.
“I don’t really pay attention like that, it’s not my job, but I hear [about taking Oviedo out] and I said, ‘No, I want my guy in,’” Rodríguez said. “… I trust [Oviedo] and I know he can complete the game. So, let him pitch.”
It was a choice Oviedo couldn't have agreed with more.
“I didn’t know [Shelton and Rodríguez] actually had a conversation about it,” Oviedo said. “I’m really, really happy with their decision.”