Johan Oviedo’s ineffective night shows how far he and the Pirates still have to go

PITTSBURGH — If he can get his absurd shot count under control, newcomer Johan Oviedo could have a shot at claiming a spot in the Pirates’ rotation next season.

The right-hander showed flashes of promise and a great curveball on Friday in his Pirates debut. However, Oviedo needed 77 pitches to navigate just three innings in a 4-0 loss to the Blue Jays.

“Overall we’re impressed with the stuff,” manager Derek Shelton said. “We need to condense the locations. Just too many slots per plaque spawn.

With the loss, the Pirates (49-82) notched their sixth losing season in seven years. They are on track for a second consecutive 100-game losing streak.

“We’re not looking at milestones in that regard,” Shelton said. “We’re just trying to focus on improving ourselves.”

The same goes for Oviedo, which the pirates acquired last month from Cardinals in the José Quintana trade. The new Oviedo club knew from the giddy moment that they needed polishing up.

In his lone start for the Cardinals on June 4, Oviedo threw 103 pitches in five innings. At Triple-A Memphis this year, he averaged five innings and 84 pitches per start.

On Friday, Oviedo stormed through the first heat sniffing out George Springer, Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Teoscar Hernández. It took 22 throws for Oveido to do it.

Oviedo threw another 22 pitches in the second inning, which included a pair of walks with two outs. In the third, the Blue Jays charged on two singles and a walk but failed to score.

After throwing 77 pitches in three scoreless innings, Oviedo’s night was over. He allowed two hits and three walks and had four strikeouts. Oveido threw more than half of his pitches for strikes, but the Blue Jays increased his foul count.

Johan Oviedo threw 77 pitches in three innings Friday against Toronto. (Charles LeClaire / USA Today)

“I was deep in the count with just about every batter,” Oviedo said. “I feel like (on my) next outing I just have to focus on getting forward on the first pitch.”

Oviedo did not feature in the decision. Tyler Beede, who failed in his recent audition as a starter, allowed two runs in the fourth inning, which was enough to send the Pirates to their 14th shutout loss of the year.

Blue Jays starter Alek Manoah stifled the Pirates. He didn’t throw his 77th pitch until the seventh inning.

Born two months apart in 1998, Oviedo and Manoah are on different career arcs – a stark contrast that underlines why the Blue Jays are battling for a wildcard offer and the Pirates are already thinking once more about next year. . Manoah (13-7, 2.48 ERA) is having a terrific rookie season. Oviedo struggles to gain ground with their second team.

The Blue Jays released Manoah of West Virginia with the 11th pick in the 2019 MLB Draft. With the 18th pick, the Pirates took high school pitcher Quinn Priester, who is having a strong Double A season.

The Cardinals signed Oviedo for $1.9 million as an amateur free agent outside of Cuba in 2016. The year Manoah was drafted, Oviedo was already in Double A.

The Cardinals groomed Oviedo as a starter — he’s made 10 starts this year for Triple-A Memphis and 18 starts over the past two seasons at the majors — but he moved to the bullpen after being called up on the 3 June. With the Cardinals this year, Oviedo went 2-1 with a 3.20 ERA and 1.30 WHIP in 14 outings (one start).

After the trade, the Pirates sent Oviedo to Triple-A Indianapolis and immediately resumed stretching him. He made five appearances (four starts) with Indy and had a 0.79 ERA and 0.97 WHIP and averaged 10.3 strikeouts per nine innings.

Although Oviedo has put up solid numbers as a reliever with the Cardinals — 2.66 ERA, 1.08 WHIP, .231 batting average against and 9.3 K/9 — the Pirates believe he has potential in as a starter.

Ovideo joined the Pirates on Thursday when the rosters grew. He will be allowed a few outings this month, aiming to make an impression ahead of spring training 2023.

Oviedo’s curveball has above average horizontal sweep (11.2 inches of horizontal break) and decent spin speed (2,423 RPM). His fastball sits at 95.6 mph, a skosh more bicycle than a year ago. Expanding his height arsenal by using his change more often and improving his slider would be a big plus.

The Blue Jays saw 20 fastballs and 11 substitutions from Oviedo. Change is a ground he rarely used with the Cardinals.

“He’s working on it,” Shelton said. “The fact that he threw it against this tough formation is important as we go forward.”

As part of the trade, the Pirates also acquired infielder Malcolm Nuñez. In 16 games with Double-A Altoona, Nuñez hit four home runs and had 16 RBIs.

He was a third baseman when the Cardinals signed him in 2018, but now plays first base and has an adequate glove. At 21, Nuñez is three years younger than the Eastern League average.

“Twenty-one! Can you believe it?” Altoona manager Kieran Mattison said. “And he’s also a 21-year-old. You can see it on his face. Good hands, moves well for his height (5-foot-11, 205 pounds). Calm, but happy guy. He is a great addition to our organization.

(Photo by Johan Oviedo throwing to Jackie Bradley Jr. in the third inning Friday: Charles LeClaire/USA Today)