PITTSBURGH — Despite the rotation’s depth issues, few likely would have imagined that it would take until the 32nd game of the season for a Reds starting pitcher to complete six innings. Even fewer would have predicted that Connor Overton would be the first to do it.
Overton’s success is becoming a thing for Cincinnati. His best outing yet, and first big league win, came during a 4-0 victory over the Pirates on Thursday night at PNC Park, where he also delivered the rotation’s first quality start. The right-hander threw 6 1/3 scoreless innings with three hits — all singles — and four walks allowed, while notching one strikeout in the combined shutout — another club first of 2022.
“Super excited, that was a lot of fun,” Overton said. “You know what? I didn’t have my best stuff, but just to be able to go out there and compete, have the defense behind me, and having [catcher Tyler] Stephenson call a great game, it was an awesome team win. I’m excited that that was my first one.”
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no team in Major League history had gone 31 games to begin a season without a starter working at least six innings since 1893, when the mound was moved to its current distance of 60 feet, 6 inches.
“That’s an amazing start. To him, it’s what he expects,” manager David Bell said. “He’s very confident right now. Coming into the season, even speaking with him this offseason, he was so excited about where he was, being healthy and with some adjustments he has made. He has carried it over to the season and stepped in, and that’s not the first time he pitched well.”
Continuing his hot stretch at the plate, Stephenson gave the Reds a 1-0 lead with an RBI single in the second inning and a 2-0 lead with a leadoff home run in the fourth. Early on, there were no easy innings for Overton. He caught a break after a leadoff walk in the second inning when Michael Perez tried to go to second base on a hit to right field as Tyler Naquin misplayed the ball. Naquin recovered in time to throw Perez out.
A one-out walk was erased by a double play in the third inning. Ben Gamel led off the sixth inning with a single, but he was picked off first base by Overton and thrown out trying for second base.
“Obviously, the command wasn’t the best that I’ve had … but I was able to make pitches when I needed to,” said Overton, who threw 91 pitches.
Per his track record, Overton displayed a large repertoire of six pitches. But of the 36 swings he generated from Pittsburgh, there were only three whiffs. One of his usually better pitches, the curveball, was not effective.
“He’s got a ton of pitches and had trouble with his curveball. He threw his slider, he had a new curveball that he had in the bullpen,” Stephenson said. “He showed it enough for them to honor it. His sinker, four-seam up, changeup did well tonight. He got some big double plays, great defense behind him.”
During his first start for the Reds against the Rockies on April 30, Bell pulled Overton with one out in the sixth inning to prevent him from seeing the lineup for a third time, and Bell saw the switch backfire in a loss. On Thursday, Bell liked enough of what he saw to let Overton see Pittsburgh’s order a third time, not just in the sixth inning, but during the seventh also.
“The fact [is] he kept executing his fastball,” Bell said. “Lower pitch count, it wasn’t about that. He seemed to be in control of what he was doing. We had our bullpen ready, but he just kept getting outs. That allowed us to go really deep in the game.”
Through three starts since his April 30 promotion, Overton has a 1.59 ERA and has pitched at least 5 1/3 innings in all three games. The 8-24 Reds — winners in five of their last seven games — claimed the last two games he’s pitched – both against Pittsburgh.
A veteran of six organizations and two independent clubs, Overton appeared in nine big league games last season for the Blue Jays and Pirates. Pittsburgh released him before he signed a Minor League contract with Cincinnati in November.
“I didn’t really dwell on it,” Overton said. “I just put my head down and kept working and said ‘All right, now what?’ Stuck to the game plan, stuck to the process, continued working hard. That was it.”