PITTSBURGH (AP) — The way Chicago Cubs manager Joe Maddon figures it, the list of relievers with better stuff than Pittsburgh’s Felipe Rivero is short. Really short. There might be five.
After spending two nights watching Rivero have his way with Chicago’s lineup, the list might be getting even shorter.
Barely 24 hours after working the eighth to preserve a Pittsburgh lead only to see it evaporate in the ninth following his exit, Rivero got the final five outs for his third save as the Pirates held on for a 4-3 win on Saturday night.
“He just goes out there, he’s doing his job pitching,” Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. “Slow heartbeat — no heartbeat at all, actually.”
Rivero entered with one out in the eighth and the tying run on second then walked Kris Bryant before retiring Albert Almora Jr. and getting a fabulous play by second baseman Max Moroff to end the threat. Rivero worked a perfect ninth to give the Pirates a boost following their meltdown the night before.
“To get five outs, it’s a big save,” Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said. “It’s a good save for us, a bounce back game after (Friday) night.”
Gregory Polanco broke out of a 3 for 31 slump with a two-run homer and McCutchen hit his 12th home run of the season. Ivan Nova (7-4) pitched seven strong innings, cutting loose after striking out pinch-hitter Jon Jay to end the seventh. His 94th and final pitch was also his fastest, a 97 mph fastball that Jay couldn’t get a bat on.
“I said it was smart pitching,” said Nova, who has worked at least six innings in all 13 of his starts this season. “I don’t need to be throwing 97, 98 from the first pitch. My job is to locate my pitches and pitch 92 or 93. If I need to go harder, I feel good enough to throw.”
Jake Arrieta (6-5) hit the fifth home run of his career but struggled with his command late and is now 0-3 with a 7.80 ERA in his last five starts against Pittsburgh. He went 9-1 with a 1.46 ERA the first 13 ties he faced the Pirates. The 2015 NL Cy Young Award winner was removed with two outs in the fifth inning following a sequence in which he uncorked two wild pitches and hit a batter. He blamed the wildness on sweating and not the laceration on his right (pitching) thumb.
“It’s a helpless feeling when you can’t put pressure on a ball and execute a pitch,” he said. “It happens. You hope that you can just find a way to get through the inning a make an adjustment. I really wasn’t able to.”
Addison Russell hit his sixth home run of the season for the Cubs. Anthony Rizzo led off the game with a single and went 2 for 4 to extend his hitting streak to 11 games, but the defending World Series champions dipped back below .500 (33-34).
The Cubs have been unable to get anything going as their hangover from the franchise’s first title in 108 years lingers. It looked like they found something Friday night, when they erupted for six runs in the ninth to rally for a win. The surge came against Juan Nicasio and Tony Watson, who came in when Rivero needed 20 pitches to get out of the eighth against the top of Chicago’s lineup.
Nicasio was unavailable on Saturday, and when Daniel Hudson gave up a double to rookie Ian Happ with one out in the eighth, Rivero came in and did it again. Before the game, Maddon raved about Rivero’s command and his comportment. Both were on full display as Maddon watched from the dugout and Nova watched from the trainer’s room.
“It’s amazing that guy that we have here,” Nova said. “You can ask him for one inning, he’ll throw one inning. You ask him for two innings, he’ll go two innings. It looks so easy.”
Pirates: Gave 2B Josh Harrison the day off for just the third time this season. Hurdle pointed to a draining stretch for Harrison — who leads the team with a .302 batting average — and a lackluster history against Arrieta (.077 average) as the major factors in the decision.
Cubs: Struggling veteran John Lackey (4-7, 5.26 ERA) will look for his first win in a month on Sunday in the series finale. Lackey is 0-4 with a 6.75 ERA in his last five starts.
Pirates: Jameson Taillon (3-1, 2.90) will try to win his second straight start since returning from a cancer scare. Taillon pitched five scoreless innings on Monday just five weeks removed from a procedure to deal with testicular cancer.
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