Three thoughts on the Pirates:
- Makes sense now
Last Aug. 1 was the most confusing day of Neal Huntington’s nearly 10-year tenure as the Pirates’ general manager.
On one hand, on the day of the non-waiver trade deadline, the Pirates dealt left-hander Francisco Liriano along with two prospects — catcher Ryan McGuire and outfielder Victor Ramirez — to the Toronto Blue Jays for right-hander Drew Hutchison.
Coupled with the trade of closer Mark Melancon to the Washington Nationals two days earlier, it was clear the Pirates were giving up on the 2016 season.
Yet an hour or so later they acquired right-hander Ivan Nova from the New York Yankees for a pair of mid-level prospects in left-hander Stephen Tarpley and outfielder Tito Polo. With Nova eligible for free agency at the end of the season, it seemed like a win-now move rather than looking ahead to future seasons.
However, the Pirates did have a plan.
They were hopeful pitching coach Ray Searage could get the inconsistent Nova on track and, in turn, he would become comfortable with the Pirates and want to stay. That is exactly how it turned out.
Nova went 5-2 with a 3.06 ERA in 11 starts following the trade then re-signed with the Pirates for three years and $26 million as a free agent in December. The Pirates used the money they offloaded in trading Liriano to bring Nova back.
Nova has been even better this season, going 3-2 with a 1.50 ERA through five starts. He has also pitched two complete games, which matches the Pirates’ total from all last season, including a three-hit shutout Saturday night against the Marlins at Miami.
“Every time you start, you want to think that way,” Nova said of the complete games. “A lot of the times, it doesn’t happen, but when it does, it feels amazing.”
Just as amazing as the complete games has been Nova’s control since joining the Pirates.
He did walk any of the 29 batters he faced Saturday night while going to just three three-ball counts.
Nova has issued only one base on balls in 36 innings this season. Last year following the trade, he had just three walks in 64 2/3 innings
Through his first 16 starts with the Pirates, Nova has allowed just 0.4 walks per nine innings. His rate was 2.9 during seven seasons with the Yankees.
“That is the perfect recipe to pitch well,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
- Finally, another outfielder
The Pirates called up outfielder Danny Ortiz from Class AAA Indianapolis on Saturday when third baseman David Freese was placed on the disabled list with a strained hamstring.
That meant the Pirates finally had three outfielders on their roster, 12 days after center fielder Starling Marte was given an 80-game suspension by Major League Baseball for violating its performance enhancing drug policy.
And, no, Jose Osuna is not an outfielder. He is a first baseman trying to play the outfield.
Outfielders are a dime a dozen. For the Pirates to be so lacking in depth in that position is hard to comprehend.
- An amazing run
PNC Park usher Phil Coyne turned 99 years old Friday and is still going strong.
Coyne began his ushering career in 1936 at Forbes Field. Except for a four-year stint in the service during World War II, he has been helping fans to their seats ever since at Pirates’ home games.
To put into perspective how long Coyne has been with the Pirates, Pie Traynor was their manager in 1936 and he wrote out a lineup card that included three other players who would eventually join him in the Hall of Fame: shortstop Arky Vaughan and outfielders Paul and Lloyd Waner.
Few remain who saw them play yet Coyne is still at the ballpark night in and night out.