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When Luis Oviedo took the mound in the eighth inning against the Chicago Cubs, he wasn’t in awe that he was pitching in his major league debut at Wrigley Field.
Even if he had never pitched above Class A, Oviedo is confident in his belief that this is exactly where he belongs. Then the Pittsburgh Pirates rookie right-hander proved it by retiring the side in order, getting the final out on a flying-bat punch out for punctuation.
“It was a huge leap, a great leap for me,” Oviedo said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez. “However, this is something that I’ve been preparing myself for for a long time, not only mentally but also physically.”
The 6-foot-4, 235-pounder was one of the bright spots in Saturday’s 5-1 loss to the Cubs, throwing 11 of his 14 pitches for strikes — four swinging, three fouled, two called and two in play — while mixing a 98 mph four-seam fastball with a curveball and slider.
The Pirates traded for Oviedo after the New York Mets selected him from the Cleveland Indians in the Rule 5 Draft. That requires the Pirates to keep Oviedo on the 26-man major league roster this season. Though the Pirates project Oviedo as a future starter, they are bringing him along slowly by using him in a relief role.
Oviedo was impressed with how the bullpen performed on Opening Day, when six relievers pitched an inning apiece and combined for 11 strikeouts while allowing only one hit and one walk in the 5-3 win.
“Not only was it very impressive but it was very helpful,” Oviedo said. “As a reliever and as a pitcher, I evaluate all of my colleagues, I evaluate all of their outings. … Not only was it motivating but it brought me a lot of confidence. Thursday was a very exciting game, and I was just trying to come out and be a piece of the puzzle to help this team win today.”
That wasn’t in the cards for Oviedo, as the Pirates were trailing by four runs when he entered in the eighth. Yet Pirates manager Derek Shelton said he “felt we could get him in with some decent matchups.” The first batter Oviedo faced was Jason Heyward, and his first pitch was a ball. Three pitches later, he got Heyward to ground out to second base.
By the time David Bote came to bat, Oviedo was warming up. He got Bote swinging on his first two pitches, a 97.7 mph fastball and an 83.7 mph slider, according to Statcast, before Bote fouled off the next two pitches. Oviedo’s slider induced another groundout, this time to third.
Oviedo unveiled his curveball against pinch hitter Ian Happ, first for a ball followed by a swing and miss. Happ took a 97 mph fastball for a called strike but fouled off Oviedo’s 97.8 mph four-seamer. When Oviedo unleashed a curve that broke low and inside on the left-handed Happ, his bat went flying into the Pirates’ dugout along first-base line.
“He came in and did a nice job,” Shelton said. “He got two ground balls. He got a punch out of a really good hitter. It was nice to break that barrier for him and get him acclimated to the big leagues. For any player, it’s important. With him getting a 1-2-3 inning, it was a cool moment.”
A moment Oviedo will never forget, and a performance the 21-year-old Venezuelan hopes to repeat the next time his number is called.
“When I think about the whole entire outing, it was just an emotional place for me, especially because this is a dream I’ve had since I was a child,” Oviedo said. “It was very special to me. The situation now is filled with a lot of emotion, a lot of excitement to be able to get to that point and that meant everything to me.”
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .