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Apr. 7—Facing a two-touchdown deficit at the Cincinnati Reds, the Pittsburgh Pirates were searching for someone — anyone, really — to deliver a highlight in a game that was the lowlight of this young season.
Phillip Evans provided a pair, first by breaking up the shutout with a solo home run over the left-field fence to give the Pirates their lone run in a 14-1 loss Tuesday night at Great American Ball Park. It was his second home run in as many games and only the third of his major league career.
The best was yet to come.
Rather than taxing his bullpen in a blowout, Pirates manager Derek Shelton decided to use a position player to pitch the bottom of the eighth inning. "Just by process of elimination," Evans got the nod.
Before you could blink, Evans completed a 1-2-3 inning on five pitches.
Shelton raves about the versatility of Evans, who overcame a broken jaw after a collision in foul territory with right fielder Gregory Polanco required season-ending surgery last August. After batting .359 in 11 games last year, Evans is hitting .417 (5 for 12) through the first four games this season.
Evans beat out two-time All-Star Todd Frazier to make the Opening Day roster because of his ability to play first base, second base, third base and right field — where he started against the Reds — and added a new position to his resume. Evans hadn't pitched since his sophomore year of high school but was hopeful to make it to the mound in an MLB game.
"I really want to. I think it's coming," Evans said in late March, adding that he had a two-pitch repertoire at the ready. "I've got the eephus. The side-arm slider, and then the eephus up top, to change the eye-level, but I think I'd have some fun out there, for sure."
Evans had a tough act to follow, as Pirates reliever Richard Rodriguez replaced Duane Underwood Jr. with two outs in the seventh and struck out Eugenio Suarez on three pitches.
Somehow, Evans topped that.
Instead of throwing the eephus, he relied mostly on a steady diet of curveballs in the 77-80 mph range.
"I wanted to get us in and out of there," Evans said. "Long game. Protect the hitters and hopefully get them to fly out. Get their swings a little bit bigger than normal, and I did what I wanted to do."
His first pitch to Kyle Farmer was a ball. Farmer fouled off the second pitch, then flew out to Wilmer Difo in center. One down.
Nick Senzel, who was 3 for 3 with a walk at that point, swung at the first pitch and hit another fly ball to Difo in center. Two down.
That brought Evans to Jonathan India, who was 3 for 3 with four RBIs. Evans threw an 82 mph changeup that India lined to right for the third out. Evans made it look easy.
Five pitches. Four swings. Three outs.
After a dismal defeat, Shelton lightened the mood by joking that his plan was to give Evans some ammunition to tease his good friend and former Pirates teammate Joe Musgrove, a fellow San Diego native.
"We wanted him to be able to talk trash to Musgrove, so he went a (five)-pitch inning," Shelton said. "I'm pretty sure he's going to send a text to Joe and tell him it's not that hard."
Traded to San Diego in January, Musgrove threw six scoreless innings, striking out eight and allowing three hits Saturday night in a 7-0 win over Arizona in his debut for the Padres. That's efficient, but nothing compared to Evans' first time pitching in a major league game.
"I might shoot him a text later, kind of critique his last start," Evans said, "but I'm sure he sent me a video already and we'll have some fun with that later."
Almost as much fun as Evans had on the mound.
Pirates bullpen coach Justin Meccage treated it as a teaching moment on a rough night for his relievers. Clay Holmes and Underwood Jr. combined to give up seven runs on eight hits in 2 2/3 innings.
"He threw five or six pitches, and everybody in the bullpen was like, 'Hey, man. Is it that easy? What's going on here?' I said, 'There's something to take from this situation,' " Meccage said.
"When you talk about changing speeds and getting under 82 or whatever he was throwing, there's something to be said for that. We did have a lot of fun with that one. I said, 'Guys, it's not that hard.' It was funny. It's a really good teaching moment for some of these guys when they see ... at times they give hitters a little too much credit, whereas if you just go out there and compete, have some fun, there's a little bit to that, too. That's what those guys do when they get out there."
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .