Reds starting pitcher Johnny Cueto pitched eight one-hit innings and Cincinnati smacked two home runs to win the series opener over the Pirates 4-0 on Friday night at PNC Park.
“You tip your cap to him. You hate to say those words, but he was really good tonight,” said Pirates second baseman Neil Walker.
Jay Bruce broke the scoreless stalemate for the Reds (34-21) in the 4th inning, driving a high fastball from Wandy Rodriguez over the right-center-field fence for his eighth home run of the season, putting Cincinnati ahead of the Pirates (34-21) for good.
“It was an 0-2 count, and he knows fastball is coming,” Rodriguez said. “I need a good location because if I miss location, that’s what happened.
Brandon Phillips lined his ninth homer just over the left-field wall to lead off the 6th inning.
Wandy Gets Seven
Pirates reliever Mike Zagurski labored through his PNC Park debut in relief of Rodriguez, who allowed nine batters to reach base in his seven innings but only gave up runs on the two homers. The left-handed starter got 13 outs with three pitches or fewer, and his efficiency helped to spell a tired bullpen.
“I can go longer in the game when I make one-pitch outs,” Rodriguez said. “It’s better for me because when I save more pitches, I go longer in the game.”
Zagurski hit Brandon Phillips in the leg with his first pitch, and Phillips stole second base off catcher Michael McKenry. He got to third base on a Jay Bruce single then scored on Zagurski’s wild pitch. Derrick Robinson later singled to left field to drive in Bruce and make the score 4-0, but Zagurski prevented any more damage with a strikeout, sacrifice bunt out and groundout.
“I felt fine,” Zagurski said. “I’m not here to make excuses. It was a poor effort and needs to get better.”
Zagurski allowed three more walks and threw two more wild pitches in the 9th inning, plus a bases-loaded walk becoming only the fifth reliever in Pirates history to throw at least three wild pitches in one game. Steve Blass was one of the other four.
“I knew the ‘pen was a little bit thin, and I didn’t do a very good job. I made Morris get up and get in the game. That’s something that’s not acceptable.”
Bryan Morris entered and (after a bases-loaded, four-pitch walk of his own) struck out pinch-hitter Donald Lutz to leave the bases loaded. Shut up, Lutz. The Reds left 12 runners on base.
Cueto Cuts ‘Em Up
The only time the Pirates got a runner past first base on Reds starter Johnny Cueto was in the first inning. Cueto walked Neil Walker, then hit Andrew McCutchen on a first-pitch fastball. Garrett Jones then hit a possible double-play ball toward first, but McCutchen slid hard into shortstop Zack Cosart to break it up and advance Walker to third base. Travis Snider lined out to Brandon Phillips to end the threat, starting Cueto’s streak of retiring 11 straight batters.
“He was in command the rest of the way,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “We’ve got more offense in this lineup. They’re all aware of that, and we’ve got to do a better job with our at-bats.”
The only Pirates hit came in the 5th inning when Brandon Inge singled to left field.
“Brandon kind of saved us all with the half-swing base hit,” Walker said. “Maybe we should all have tried the half-swing tonight.”
The next pitch, Clint Barmes grounded into a 5-4-3 double play and Cueto set down the next nine hitters. Cueto got 11 ground-ball outs and ended his outing with six total strikeouts on 15 swings-and-misses (9 of them on his devastating changeup). The Reds’ right-hander only allowed one baserunner in Inge after the first inning.
“It would be one thing if he were bouncing [changeups] with two strikes,” Walker said. “That’s not the case. It’s almost like a sinking-split type of pitch. When he’s throwing it for strikes, he’s gonna be good.”
Sam LeCure pitched a perfect 9th inning in relief for the Reds to finish up the win and tie the Pirates for second place in the NL Central.
Well, I have been enjoying the ride so far, but to me things are looking very similiar to the last 2 seasons. The pitching has been fantastic, but just like the past 2 years, I can’t imagine that there is any way the staff can keep it up for a whole season. The pen is being over worked already and let’s face it, most of the starters are pitching better than they have shown a consistent ability to do in the past. I hope I’m wrong and they all decide to have career seasons this year, but we will just have to hope. Secondly, let’s face it, the offense is lacking. I’m not just saying that based on the last 5 games, the Tigers staff and Cueto shut down a lot of people. Tonight the Pirates rank 21st in runs, 25th in avg, 21st OB%, and 21st in Slugging. I see the pitching regressing to some level just because it has to and unless the offense shows some ability to consistently put some runs on the board, I think that things could get rather ugly at some point soon. I guess the bright spot is that Cutch hasn’t had his 2 month span where he hits almost .500. I think the correct question right now would be, what is Grilli’s trade value at the deadline if he keeps up his dominance?
Ok, I’ve seen enough of Zagurski to know that he isn’t worth keeping around once Morton is healthy. He also isn’t trade bait worthy. Just DFA him now and save the bullpen from blowing a few games.