Oviedo's 5 scoreless innings 'a really good sign'

Recent acquisition has best start as a Pirate, keyed by strong slider

September 13th, 2022

CINCINNATI -- It’s been a difficult season for the Pirates’ pitching rotation, but Game 1 of Tuesday’s doubleheader may have offered a glimpse of promise as they trudge through the final three weeks of the regular season.

Playing a day-night doubleheader against Cincinnati, the club started a pair of right-handers who could see their roles expand over the next year, including Game 1 starter Johan Oviedo.

Since Oviedo was acquired as part of the José Quintana deal with St. Louis in August, the Pirates tried to work him back as a starter -- a role he was used in during his time as a Cardinal. In his first two starts as a Pirate, however, he lasted a combined 4 2/3 innings.

Then, suddenly, in Tuesday’s opener, everything clicked.

The 24-year-old right-hander delivered five scoreless innings while striking out four and walking two on his way to earning his third win of the season in Pittsburgh’s 6-1 victory over the Reds in Game 1 at Great American Ball Park.

Well out of the NL Central race, the Pirates have the creative freedom to mix and match starters to find the strongest group heading into next season.

“My plan today was just to try to get through those five [innings] and let my stuff play in the zone, not to get swings and misses or strikeouts," Oviedo said. "Just [induce] contact and let my defense play.”

Oviedo mixed his four-seam fastball and slider well, but it was the latter that he had the most success with, receiving whiffs on it 10 times from the 19 swings it generated.

“I was happy that I was allowed to win 1-1 counts and 0-0 counts, try to be in front of the hitter every time,” Oviedo said. “Every time I wasn't, I was able to come with my slider.”

His four-seamer, on the other hand, is more of a work in progress, but the right-hander debuted a new grip during his previous start, and even after a difficult first start against the Mets, both he and manager Derek Shelton were confident the results would come.

“I think it’s one of the reasons we acquired him,” Shelton said. “We knew there were certain things we wanted to do with him. When you acquire a guy, it’s not instantaneous. And the fact that he took to it and was able to execute, it’s a really good sign.”

Oviedo's lone test with a runner in scoring position came in the third inning, when he walked two batters with two outs, but he retired Jonathan India with a groundout.

“I think the thing that was the most impressive was [the third inning] where he had two walks, he was able to rebound and execute pitches,” Shelton said.

Oviedo had insurance to work with, as the Pirates tallied back-to-back games with at least three home runs -- only the third time that’s happened this season -- with Ke’Bryan Hayes, Bryan Reynolds and Cal Mitchell all reaching the seats.