PITTSBURGH -- The concept of “flow,” popularized by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, describes the sensation of becoming fully immersed and completely in a task. There are no thoughts. There is only action. On a chilly, Saturday night in Pittsburgh, Johan Oviedo entered the flow state and recorded a masterpiece.
Oviedo penned his magnum opus in the Pirates’ 6-0 win over the Cubs on Saturday night at PNC Park, pitching seven shutout innings with seven strikeouts to no walks and retiring the final 16 batters that he faced. He pitched with pace. He pitched with aggression. He pitched with emotion. He shut his mind off in the process.
“That was one of the biggest things today -- I was not thinking about anything,” Oviedo said. “I was just trying to compete every single pitch. I was not looking for strikeouts or the pitch count or anything. I was just trying to have fun every single pitch that I throw and forget about results, even if it was a good or bad or whatever happened.”
On this night, Oviedo was certainly having a whole lot of fun on the mound.
With two outs in the second inning, Jared Young slapped a weakly-hit single into left field. From there, Oviedo proceeded to retire the final 16 batters he faced. When he struck out Franmil Reyes with a beautiful down-and-away slider to end the fourth inning, Oviedo curled his body, bent down and let out a cathartic yell before confidently strutting back to the dugout. Manager Derek Shelton didn’t realize that Oviedo had thrown five straight perfect innings, but he noticed early his starter’s level of aggression.
“He went right after people,” Shelton said. “His tempo was really good. I think it just speaks to how good his stuff was tonight.”
To Shelton, Oviedo’s most impressive inning came in the first. The Cubs put runners on first and second with a pair of singles that beat the shift, and looked poised to put the game’s first run on the board. Instead, Oviedo bore down, escaped the jam and proceeded to lock in for six more innings.
“Those are the times before we’ve seen him overthrow. He didn’t. He executed,” Shelton said. “Overall, it was an outstanding start.”
Oviedo had every pitch in his bag working, but the slider, in particular, befuddled the Cubs all evening long. Of Oviedo’s seven strikeouts, he recorded four -- all swinging -- with the slider. The pitch has been invaluable for Oviedo this season. Entering play, Oviedo’s slider, by run value, has easily been his best pitch, holding opponents to a .235 batting average and .177 expected batting average.
"He was just really deceptive," said Cubs manager David Ross. "I thought he got a slider over for strikes when he needed to. You had to respect that. Looked like it was on the corner pretty consistently. That crossfire. He made some pitches when he had to.”
Oviedo only needed 82 pitches to complete seven innings, but Shelton called upon Zach Thompson to handle the game’s final two innings, noting that Oviedo’s pitch limit was going to be in the 85-to-90 range. Oviedo appeared to have the juice to toss another inning. The right-hander’s final two pitches of the night, a pair of fastballs that registered 98.0 and 97.8 mph, were Oviedo’s second and fourth-hardest thrown pitches of the evening, respectively. Oviedo’s goal -- for this start and every start -- was to aim for a complete game, a mindset instilled in him by former teammate Adam Wainwright.
“Something that I learned from Waino is that you always have to think about throwing nine innings,” Oviedo said. “I’m very thankful to share time with him while I was there, and that was something that I took with me: if you want to win, you have to go seven. You have to go eight. You have to go nine. I’m not the guy that will think, ‘I have to throw six today.’ I will always think about throwing nine. My mind is going to be nine, but I just try to have fun, pitch by pitch, every time that I can do that.”
Oviedo wasn’t the only member of the youth movement who shined on Saturday. Ji Hwan Bae, fresh off collecting a hit, walk and two steals in his Major League debut on Friday, recorded more milestones on Saturday, driving in his first two runs with his first double in the fifth inning. That same frame, Jack Suwinski came off the bench and launched his 18th home run of the season, a blast that landed on the “R” of the center-field shrubbery. Rodolfo Castro, not to be left out of the party, collected two hits and made a nifty catch in foul territory.
"I think it keeps giving us glimpses of what we're doing in player development is right,” Shelton said. “The guys we're acquiring, like an Oviedo, are the right decisions. It makes you smile when you have a bunch of young kids and you see the energy they play with. It's not like we've played poorly over the last few games. We lacked the big hit. But to see the intensity and the energy they're playing with, it's a really good sign."