Lack of an effective fastball led to a disastrous start for Johan Oviedo that put the Pittsburgh Pirates in a big early hole they could never dig out of in a loss agaisnt the Washington Nationals
It may have ended on a sour note, but the month of April was a great one for the Pittsburgh Pirates. Even following a 7-2 loss agaisnt the Washington Nationals on Sunday afternoon, the Pirates were still able to take two of three in the nation's capital.
Despite Sunday's lopsided loss the Pirates end the month of April with a National League best 20-9 record. Their 20 wins is a franchise record for the end of the month of April and puts them 1.5 games ahead of the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central divison.
Johan Oviedo struggles
Through his first five starts of the season Johan Oviedo was off to a tremendous start to his first full MLB season. Sunday afternoon, however, Oviedo struggled with command and his fastball on his way to getting lit up by a poor National lineup.
After retiring the first two batters of the game, Oviedo allowed back-to-back singles. Jeimer Candelario then ripped a 2-run double into right-center field. This gave the Nats a 2-0 lead and was the start of a long afternoon for Oviedo.
Throughout his start Oviedo struggled with his command. This led to walks, as well as him hanging far too many breaking pitches over the strike zone. At no point during his start did Oviedo seem to have much confidence in his fastball which led to National batters completely disregarding the pitching and just sitting back omn his off-speed stuff.
National batters put six balls in play off of Oviedo that had an exit velocity greater than 104 MPH. There were three more put in play with an exit velocity of 94 MPH or greater. This just examplifies that without an effective fastball Nats batters just teed off on Oviedo's off-speed pitches.
Oviedo would allo 7 runs on nine hits, two walks, and just one strikeout in 2.1 innings pitched.
Nationals barely wiggle out of a 3rd inning jam, go into cruise control
Even though the Pirates were trailing 5-0 entering the top of the 3rd inning they had a golden opportuntiy to get right back into the game. To the credit of Josiah Gray and the Nationals, they were just barely able to wiggle out of a jam.
With two outs in the inning Bryan Reynolds singled home Ji Hwan Bae to cut the National lead to 5-1. Gray then issued back-to-back walks to Carlos Santana and Miguel Andújar to load the bases. Jack Suwinski turned on a 2-2 pitch and hit a 104.6 MPH rocket down the first base line that Dominic Smith made a great pick on.
Smith's pick robbed Suwinski of a double and multiple RBI, but when Gray went to flip the ball to first base there was no one there at first. Gray was late to break to cover the bag which nearly led to a run-scoring infield hit for Suwinski. Gray beat Suwinski to the bag by seemingly less than half a step. Gray would then cruise through the rest of his start after just barely wiggling off the hook in the 3rd inning.
Bullpen picks up Oviedo
While Oviedo struggled on Sunday, the Pirate bullpen did not. A quartet of Pirate relievers helped to pick up Oviedo and did not allow the score to get worse. While the offense was never able to capitalize, the bullpen did all they could to give them a chance to rally.
It started with Dauri Moreta who got the final two outs of the 3rd inning without allowing any more runs to score. Moreta then fired a scoreless 4th inning. A strong outing from Moreta who had been scored upon in his last two outings and three of his last five.
After Moreta it was Jose Hernandez. The Rule 5 Draft addition just continues to get batters out and impress. Hernandez allowed two singles, did not walk a batter, and struck out a pair in 2 scoreless innings pitched. Hernandez now owns a 0.77 ERA to go with a 1:11 BB:K ratio in 11.2 innings pitched this season.
After Yohan Ramirez struck a batter out while allowing a pair of hits in a scoreless 7th inning, Duane Underwood Jr. took the mound in the 8th inning. Underwood Jr. allowed a hit and issued a walk, but cleaned things up with a 4-6-3 double play ball to end the inning.
The bullpen did their job. This game really could have gotten out of hand but Derek Shelton's relievers did not allow that to happen. Unfortunately, the offense was never able to get going agaisnt a tough customer in Gray and that set the tone for the offense on the day.
Following a day off on Monday the Pittsburgh Pirates will kick off a three-game series against the Tampa Bay Rays on Tuesday night. In a battle between what are records wise the two best teams in baseball, Roansy Contreras (3.58 ERA, 3.04 FIP) is scheduled to start for the Pirates. As of this writing a starting pitcher was not yet announced for the Rays. First pitch from Tropicana Field is scheduled for 6:40 PM ET.