PITTSBURGH -- A night after letting a ninth-inning lead slip away and a strong start go unrewarded, Tony Watson made sure both would stand. The new Pirates closer shut the door on Ivan Nova's Pittsburgh debut with a clean ninth inning Saturday night, picking up his second save of the season and punctuating the Pirates' 5-3 win over the Reds at PNC Park.
"Get right back out there, it means we're winning games, and that's all that matters," Watson said. "Felt good, felt like the ball was coming out good. It's a good win."
Acquired just before Monday's non-waiver Trade Deadline and effectively replacing veteran lefty Francisco Liriano, Nova immediately rewarded the Pirates' faith in him. Plagued only by a pair of Brandon Phillips solo homers, Nova allowed three runs over seven efficient innings, striking out five batters without a walk. Phillips took Nova deep to left in the second and again in the seventh for his 13th career multi-homer game.
"Pitch-efficiency was at the top of the list," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Really liked the way he went about it."
Pittsburgh didn't bash the ball around the ballpark against Cincinnati starter Homer Bailey, but he struggled to keep the Pirates off the bases. Bailey surrendered five runs on eight hits and a walk and hit two batters while striking out four over three-plus innings.
"After the third it was obvious that Bailey didn't have his good stuff," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "That's not just assessed by pure velocity. The velocity was down, but he wasn't sharp, he wasn't behind the ball. The offspeed pitches were OK, but not great. He didn't feel as electric in Game 2 as he did in Game 1."
Five runs turned out to be enough for the Pirates, who pulled within two games of the second National League Wild Card spot with their win and losses by the Marlins and Cardinals. Unlike Friday, they didn't need a walk-off homer to seal this victory; Watson got the job done himself for his first home save since being named Mark Melancon's successor.
"That's the role of a closer, to have a short memory as long as they have good stuff," Hurdle said. "You've got to show confidence in him and give him the ball. … He showed some nice resolve."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Hit and run: Nova led off the fourth inning with his second career hit and his first since 2012, a single to center off Bailey. Unfamiliar with running the bases, much less at PNC Park, Nova stopped at second on Josh Harrison's long single off the Clemente Wall in right. But he came around to score his first career run on Starling Marte's two-run single up the middle.
Phillips' drought over: Phillips tied the game at 1 with his seventh home run of the season in the second inning, his first since May 7, snapping a career high streak of 286 at-bats without a dinger. The Reds tacked on another run off Nova to take a lead that inning after Eugenio Suarez doubled and scored on a single by Tucker Barnhart. More >
No pain, no gain: The Pirates pulled ahead in the third inning thanks to a pair of hit batsmen, a staple of any Pittsburgh-Cincinnati matchup. Bailey plunked David Freese and, with the bases loaded, hit John Jaso in the back of his right foot to drive in the tying run. Reds pitchers have hit 45 Pirates batters over the last four seasons, the most by any Major League staff against any opponent. Francisco Cervelli continued the third-inning rally, reaching on an RBI infield single to give Pittsburgh a 3-2 lead.
Freese left the game in the seventh inning with left elbow discomfort after being hit by Bailey and is considered day to day.
Kang comes up big: Jung Ho Kang entered the game for Freese as a pinch-hitter in the seventh, but he made his greatest impact defensively in the eighth. With runners at first and second and no one out, Billy Hamilton hit a sharp ground ball to Kang at third. The Korean infielder dove to his right to rob Hamilton, stepped on third and threw to Harrison at second for the double play. The next batter, Zack Cozart, ended the inning with another grounder to Kang. More >
"I think if you watched the at-bats, you might see there's a little room for work. Although right now, he's a .300 hitter. We'll say that and move on." --Hurdle, on Nova's hitting
"For the manager to show enough trust in me to give me the ball in the ninth inning, it means a lot to me. I'll keep going out there and doing the best I can." --Watson, on being the closer
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
• Nova was the 48th player the Pirates have used this season, nearing the club record of 52, set in 2011. He also became the 12th pitcher to start a game for the Pirates this season; their franchise record in that department is farther out of reach: 18 in 1996.
• In 18 career appearances (17 starts) against NL opponents, Nova is 9-3 with a 2.79 ERA.
• The Reds' lost their first series since the All-Star break, snapping their series win streak at six straight.
WHAT'S NEXT Reds: Right-hander Dan Straily (6-6, 3.80 ERA) will make his 21st start for the Reds at PNC Park on Sunday at 1:35 p.m. ET. He has produced quality starts in each of his last six appearances. He leads the Reds in innings pitched, strikeouts and quality starts with 13.
Pirates: The Pirates will try to finish a much-needed series sweep on Sunday at PNC Park, sending ace Gerrit Cole to the mound against the Reds. Cincinnati has been Cole's greatest nemesis, as he is 0-5 with a 5.30 ERA in seven career starts against the Reds.