The three game set against Cincinnati is arguably the biggest series to date for the Pittsburgh Pirates this season and in years. Both clubs have been hot, too. Since May 25, the Pirates (40-20) and Reds (39-22) have the two best records in the Major Leagues. Pittsburgh entered game action in second place just 3.5 games back in the National League Central division to Cincinnati. The series should be intense and full of emotion, which proved to be true when Andrew McCutchen was beaned by a 101 mph fastball up and in on his left shoulder from closer Aroldis Chapman in the top of the ninth. The Pirates All-Star stared down their closer as he took first base. Minutes later, the usually calm McCutchen showed his anger in the dugout after the Pirates dropped game one in a 3-0 shutout.
The Pirates had a quality start from newly acquired Wandy Rodriguez, but the lack of offense off the Reds Mat Latos was the factor in the loss which dropped them to 60-45 on the season.
Rodriguez allowed three runs on seven hits over seven frames. He didn’t walk a batter and struck out four while throwing 88 pitches, 64 strikes.
Both runs came from the long ball, although both were uncommon home runs.
After retiring his first two batters in the second frame, Rodriguez battled against Chris Heisey in a 10 pitch at-bat. The right fielder took a hanging curveball to deep left field. Starling Marte attempted to make a jumping catch up against the wall, but missed the grab, allowing Heisey to be aggressive and come home. Neil Walker made a perfect relay throw to Rod Barajas at home plate, but the bang-bang play was ruled safe, giving Heisey an inside the park home run.
The second came in the fifth. Rodriguez scattered just one hit over his next three innings after the first dinger before giving up a base knock with two outs in the fifth. Pitcher Mat Latos then took a first pitch fastball from the left-hander and launched a two-run homer to left field for his third career long ball.
The Pirates weren’t able to plate a run off the Reds pitching staff. They combined for just four hits off Latos, as the bullpen tossed 1.2 perfect frames in relief. Pittsburgh attempted several rallies, but the Reds were able to turn three double plays and get out of jams to leave the runners stranded.
Tonight marked the first time since the N.L. Central division came into existence in 1994 that the Reds and Pirates are the top two teams in the standings this late in a season.
Pirates Shuffle Rotation for Big Series
The Pirates decided to use the off day on Thursday to their advantage and shuffled their rotation for the weekend series. Left-hander Erik Bedard, who was set to get the ball on Sunday against Homer Bailey will now pitch on Monday at PNC Park against the Arizona Diamaondbacks.
Pittsburgh decided to start veteran A.J. Burnett on Sunday against the Reds, who has been the staff’s ace. With the off day, Burnett will be still be on his normal four days rest.
Cruz Progressing through Shoulder Inflammation
Juan Cruz continues to take steps forward in getting back from right shoulder inflammation, which sent him on the disabled list on July 21. Cruz threw a 25 pitch live BP session to Alex Presley and Gaby Sanchez on Friday, which included breaking pitches.
Cruz will be reevaluated over the next few days, and the club will determine his next step when the Pirates return to Pittsburgh on Monday.
Qualls Makes Bucco Debut
Chad Qualls made his Pirates debut on Friday against the Reds. The right-hander tossed a perfect inning with a strikeout. He needed just nine pitches, seven for strikes in his first appearance.
Qualls was acquired from the New York Yankees in exchange for infielder Casey McGehee on the trade deadline Tuesday. Qualls is expected to fill the void of Brad Lincoln in the bullpen this season, in the later innings of close games.