Cardinals’ starter Jack Flaherty put the leadoff man on in the first, second and fourth innings, but emerged mostly unscathed thanks to inducing a double-play in each of those frames. Those early miscues did not slow the offense down, with a batter reaching base safely 12 times from the fifth to eighth innings.
“I just liked our approach,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “We got some pitches to hit that we didn’t hit. Flaherty was very quick. The fastball had some life to it. . It was tough to crack him early, but we just stayed steadfast with the approach.”
Francisco Cervelli put the Pirates on the board with a solo home run in the bottom of the second, with Tommy Pham of the Cardinals tying it in the third with a run scoring double. Marcell Ozuna gave St. Louis a 2-1 edge in the sixth when he won a nine pitch battle against starter Trevor Williams with an RBI single.
The Pirates responded in the home half of the inning with a game-tying single by Josh Bell and a go-ahead sacrifice fly by Cervelli, bringing home Adam Frazier and Starling Marte, respectively.
In the seventh, pinch-hitter David Freese hit a sacrifice fly that scored Jordy Mercer, and an RBI infield single for Corey Dickerson drove home Sean Rodriguez.
An eighth inning error by first baseman Jose Martinez let Colin Moran score the game’s final run.
Williams went six innings, allowing two runs on four hits and two walks. He struck out two, threw a first pitch strike to 12 of the 24 batters he faced and retired six on three pitches or less.
“It was a little bit of an abnormality today with the slider not being there for me,” Williams said.
Williams threw 11 sliders (out of 105 total pitches) and did not get a whiff on it once. The Cardinals put it in play three times, but all three were outs.
Saturday was the 12th time in his last 13 starts at PNC Park where he allowed two runs or less. He improves to 4-1 on the year with a 2.29 ERA.
Michael Feliz, George Kontos and Edgar Santana combined to throw three innings of relief, with Feliz allowing the only hit or walk out of the trio.
Flaherty took the loss (0-1) after allowing three runs on four hits and four walks in 5+ innings pitched.
The Pirates are now 16-11 and have a 0.5 game lead in the NL Central over the Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs.
Spread the Amore
Cervelli entered play Saturday leading all major league catchers with 1.2 WAR, according to Fangraphs.com. He is also currently leading the team in OBP (.393), wRC+ (164) and RBI (20).
The early success has been much needed for the Pirates, who need their catcher to return to his 2015 production if they hope to succeed. Cervelli is also enjoying the benefits of being on a hot streak and injury free.
“I’m healthy, that’s the most important thing,” Cervelli said. “I’m very blessed that now my body is responding well and I’m here playing hard every day.”
Health plays a big part, but Cervelli made several changes this offseason, from his diet to his stance.
Cervelli previously crouched at the plate (left), but he straightened out his back while in the set position this season (right).
He also added a leg kick, which can be seen in his home run from last night. (Twitter user @CannonballCrner made a nice gif comparing the 2017 and 2018 swings, too). Those changes have made him feel more free at the dish, he said.
But there is one other important change he made.
“From New Balance to Adidas,” Cervelli said with a smile.
Nick Kingham will make his major league debut Sunday as the Pirates WHAT. Kingham is ranked as the Pirates’ 13th best prospect by major league baseball and is 2-1 with a 1.59 ERA in four AAA starts this season.
The Cardinals will start Luke Weaver, who is 2-1 with a 4.85 ERA. First pitch is at 1:35 p.m..
4: This is the first time in Cervelli’s career that he has homered four times in a month. His previous career high of three was set in April of 2013.
16: This is the second time in club history that the Pirates have won 16 games in April. The other time was in 1988, where they went 16-6 in the first month of the season behind four wins from current Pirates broadcaster Bob Walk.
600: Clint Hurdle became the fifth Pirates manager to reach 600 wins Saturday, joining Chuck Tanner (711), Jim Leyland (851), Danny Murtaugh (1,115) and Fred Clarke (1,422).