Rain no match for Bucs' 5th straight win
PITTSBURGH -- Rookies and regulars alike made a point on a rainy Saturday afternoon at PNC Park: The Pirates still have something to prove this season.
Led by a strong start from Ivan Nova and a balanced offensive attack, the Pirates beat the Marlins, 5-1, for their fifth straight win. By sweeping Cincinnati and winning this series against Miami, Pittsburgh has pulled itself back to .500 for the first time since the club was 63-63 on Aug. 20.
The Pirates' late-season skid knocked them out of the postseason picture, but they can still finish a winning season and establish some momentum heading into next season with a young roster.
"It matters anytime. It never doesn't matter, to finish strong and to play and to represent," manager Clint Hurdle said. "Getting these young men up here and getting them engaged matters. Playing the game right, respecting the game, playing the game hard matters. It all goes hand-in-hand."
First baseman Josh Bell, who homered for the second straight day, said the injection of young talent could be playing a part in the Pirates' winning streak. Kevin Kramer and Jordan Luplow played a big part in their game-winning rally on Friday, and Kevin Newman and Jacob Stallings each drove in a run on Saturday to give Pittsburgh an early 3-0 lead.
"You've got new guys, new talent just trying to show what they can do, guys getting opportunities, families coming into the clubhouse and seeing the field for the first time," Bell said. "It's definitely a cool atmosphere. Hopefully we can keep it up."
But it was the most veteran member of the pitching staff who set the tone on Saturday. After missing his last outing following a death in his extended family, Nova returned to make one of his best starts of the season. The right-hander tied a season high with nine strikeouts and allowed only three hits and a walk over six scoreless innings, lowering his ERA to 4.17.
In four career starts against the Marlins, Nova is 4-0 with a 0.98 ERA. He also struck out nine Marlins in a 7-3 win on April 15 in Miami.
"I've been throwing strikes to them. They're a really aggressive team. Today all my pitches were on point," Nova said. "They're swinging early. They're swinging through the whole at-bat. You make quality pitches, you're going to be able to get outs."
Five of the Pirates' eight starting position players on Saturday spent most of the season with Triple-A Indianapolis, but the three regulars padded Pittsburgh's lead. Bell launched right-hander Brett Graves' full-count fastball out to center field in the sixth, his 10th home run of the season. Adam Frazier singled in the seventh and scored when Starling Marte lined a double to left-center field off reliever Elieser Hernandez.
With a big lead, the Pirates gave the back end of their bullpen a break. Right-hander Dovydas Neverauskas pitched a perfect seventh, and converted starter Nick Kingham picked up the final two innings.
The pitching staff is a little more stable, even in September, but Nova said there is still motivation to set a good example for Pittsburgh's younger players.
"That's what you're trying to do since day one," Nova said. "Even though they're not here, they're always watching."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Ringin' in the rain: Bell went 26 days and 19 games without a home run or an RBI before going deep in Friday's 5-3 win over the Marlins. His next drought lasted less than 24 hours. Bell walked twice on Saturday and crushed his 10th home run of the season, and his second in as many days, into Miami's bullpen.
A strong finish is particularly important for Bell, Pittsburgh's ideal cleanup hitter with everyone healthy, as he looks to build momentum for next season.
"It is good to see. Those balls the last two days, he clobbered those balls - both of them," Hurdle said. "Seen some pitches and laid off some pitches. He's got work to do, but I really appreciate the way he's gone about it since he's gotten back in the lineup."
HE SAID IT
"The whole year, this is the best curveball that I've had. I was able to play a little bit around with it." -- Nova, on his curveball
Nova threw 26 on the day, including six that made the Marlins swing and miss, five they took for called strikes, four they fouled off and three they put in play.
"It was almost like a bowler. He just got the spin in the lane and everything was finishing." -- Hurdle, on Nova's curveball
Right-hander Trevor Williams will look to continue his historic second-half run on Sunday against the Marlins -- the club that drafted him -- at 1:35 p.m. ET at PNC Park. Williams owns a 0.66 ERA over his last nine starts. Jeff Brigham will take the mound for Miami.