PITTSBURGH -- The Brewers loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth inning on Saturday afternoon, and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had a decision to make. Should he let Ivan Nova face Travis Shaw? Pittsburgh only led by one run at the time, and one swing could have changed
PITTSBURGH -- The Brewers loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth inning on Saturday afternoon, and Pirates manager Clint Hurdle had a decision to make. Should he let Ivan Nova face Travis Shaw? Pittsburgh only led by one run at the time, and one swing could have changed the game. But it was the first half of a doubleheader, so the Pirates needed innings from their veteran starter.
Hurdle emerged from the Pirates dugout, took the ball from Nova and handed it to right-hander Richard Rodriguez. The move played out perfectly. Rodriguez struck out Shaw to leave the bases loaded and kick-start another strong performance by the Bucs' high-leverage relief quartet in their 2-1 win over the Brewers.
Rodriguez was followed on the mound by right-handers Edgar Santana and Kyle Crick and closer Felipe Vazquez. That trio has not allowed a run this month, and their spotless work continued on Saturday at PNC Park.
"They've been really solid. They're humans, so you don't take it for granted," Hurdle said. "You never take it for granted. It's not automatic. They've got to go out there and make pitches."
Working with a lead after a pair of first-inning homers by Starling Marte and Gregory Polanco, Nova cruised through four innings before finding trouble in the fifth. He wasn't hit hard, but the Brewers nonetheless loaded the bases and made Nova throw 27 pitches to record his final two outs. Up came Shaw, who is 12-for-16 with three homers and two doubles against Nova.
"The guy's had a lot of success off me, and this is a game we've got to get," Nova said. "It's the matchup. It's not pitch counts. And we need wins."
So out went Nova and in came Rodriguez, a Minor League signing who's been a revelation since the Pirates called him up in mid-April. The 28-year-old rookie started with a slider against Shaw for a called strike. Rodriguez finished Shaw with a slider as well, getting the slugging infielder to swing and miss and preserving Pittsburgh's one-run lead. Rodriguez remained in the game and worked a perfect sixth, lowering his ERA to 2.35.
"He knew that there was an opportunity for him to get involved in that inning if it worked out the way it did, and it did," Hurdle said. "He answered the bell and gave us another inning. Really strong performance."
Santana then took over on the mound. He walked Keon Broxton, and the Brewers sent up All-Star slugger Jesus Aguilar as a pinch-hitter. Santana finished the eight-pitch battle with an 86.6-mph slider that made Aguilar lunge and whiff.
With Broxton running, catcher Elias Diaz fired a strike to second baseman Josh Harrison from his knees, and Harrison quickly tagged out Broxton to end the inning. The typically mild-mannered Santana pumped his fists and shouted before walking back to the dugout.
"Play of the game," Hurdle said. "Very impressive play."
Crick, now boasting a 1.98 ERA this season, entered in the eighth inning to face the top of Milwaukee's lineup. The right-hander overcame Christian Yelich's leadoff single and punctuated his 14th straight scoreless appearance by striking out Hernan Perez.
Vazquez matched Crick's streak with his 14th straight scoreless appearance, working around a two-out single by Erik Kratz to pick up his 22nd save.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Back-to-back jacks: Polanco has been the Pirates' hottest hitter for a month, and Marte has caught fire at the plate over the past 10 days. Neither cooled down in the first inning, as they blasted a pair of fastballs from Chase Anderson for back-to-back home runs.
"Those guys, they've really put their foot down," Nova said. "They want to have a good season."
Marte's 12th homer of the season extended his hitting streak to 10 games. Polanco then launched his team-leading 15th home run of the season out to right field. Nova said Polanco set a goal to accumulate 50 RBIs by the All-Star break, and he did it on Saturday.
"I'm really happy for him," Nova said.
The last time the Pirates hit back-to-back home runs was May 20, when Austin Meadows and Jordy Mercer did it against the Padres at PNC Park.
The Pirates called up right-hander Clay Holmes to start the second half of Saturday's doubleheader against the Brewers. Holmes made his first Major League start on July 4 at Dodger Stadium, where he allowed four runs in 2 1/3 innings. To stay in line for his second big league start, Holmes last pitched for Class A Advanced Bradenton on Monday.
Adam Berry has covered the Pirates for MLB.com since 2015. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook and read his blog.