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New duo locks down victory with slim lead

Bucs will depend on Nicasio, Rivero to pitch final innings
MLB.com

PITTSBURGH -- With the Pirates clinging to a one-run lead they just fought back to earn, the Marlins put two runners on with two outs in the eighth inning. More often than not, Juan Nicasio could finish the inning. But Felipe Rivero was rested and ready, and Pittsburgh's bullpen is no longer strictly defined by inning-numbered roles.

So before lefty-hitting Dee Gordon came to the plate, Hurdle strode to the mound and called in Rivero. The left-hander fired three fastballs to get ahead of Gordon, then unleashed a wicked 83.6-mph slider that backed Gordon off the plate before landing safely within the strike zone. It was the first of four outs Rivero recorded as he picked up the save and secured the Bucs' 7-6 win over the Marlins on Saturday at PNC Park.

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PITTSBURGH -- With the Pirates clinging to a one-run lead they just fought back to earn, the Marlins put two runners on with two outs in the eighth inning. More often than not, Juan Nicasio could finish the inning. But Felipe Rivero was rested and ready, and Pittsburgh's bullpen is no longer strictly defined by inning-numbered roles.

So before lefty-hitting Dee Gordon came to the plate, Hurdle strode to the mound and called in Rivero. The left-hander fired three fastballs to get ahead of Gordon, then unleashed a wicked 83.6-mph slider that backed Gordon off the plate before landing safely within the strike zone. It was the first of four outs Rivero recorded as he picked up the save and secured the Bucs' 7-6 win over the Marlins on Saturday at PNC Park.

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"We're going to use the bullpen to win games, not count saves," Hurdle said. "I liked the way it finished for us."

The Pirates officially made the switch on Friday, when Hurdle met with struggling closer Tony Watson and explained the club's plan. Watson will work in lower-leverage situations to reestablish himself, and while there will be no official closer, Rivero and Nicasio will share late-inning duties.

"All we want to do is win games, no matter what," Rivero said. "If you're closing or not closing, you've just got to go out and try to do the best that you can."

The Pirates took a one-run lead in the seventh with a rally made possible by the work of relievers Edgar Santana, Jhan Marinez and Daniel Hudson. Demoted to lower-leverage work earlier this season, Hudson pitched his third straight 1-2-3 inning in the seventh and lowered his ERA to 1.59 over his past 11 appearances.

"I believe Hudson's in a much better place," Hurdle said. "Each time he touches the ball, he seems to be making some progress."

Nicasio struck out two of the four hitters he faced in the eighth, but he allowed a pair of singles, putting the tying run on second base. In came Rivero, who froze Gordon with the slider after throwing him three fastballs, all above 99 mph.

Video: MIA@PIT: Rivero whiffs Gordon looking to end threat

"Go with your best," Hurdle said. "He's been our best."

The Pirates have seen Rivero baffle hitters since acquiring him from the Nationals in the Mark Melancon trade last July, but it never gets old. Watching from the clubhouse, starter Trevor Williams said he flinched just as Gordon did.

"Everybody knows what kind of stuff they've got," shortstop Jordy Mercer said. "To see it on display, especially in the ninth with the crowd on their feet, it's going to give you a little extra juice -- which he doesn't need. ... It's awesome to have those guys come in."

Rivero struck out the first two batters he faced in the ninth, then Marcell Ozuna hit a hard ground ball to second baseman Josh Harrison for the final out of the game.

"It's pretty cool. It's like an easy button or something," John Jaso said. "It seems like most guys don't really have a chance. It feels good to have him on our team."

Video: MIA@PIT: Rivero discusses the win, notching the save

Rivero's effectiveness is nothing new, even if he's pitching a different inning. He owns a 0.56 ERA with 37 strikeouts and only six walks in 32 1/3 innings over 32 appearances. Saturday was Rivero's fourth career save, his first since last April 12 and his first -- but certainly not his last -- for the Pirates.

"It feels awesome," Rivero said. "When you have months without coming out in the ninth, it feels like something new for you."

Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook, read his blog and listen to his podcast.

Pittsburgh Pirates, Juan Nicasio, Felipe Rivero