Just when you thought 2020 couldn’t get any stranger the Pirates welcomed the Reds to PNC Park for a home and away seven inning double header due to the series in Cincinnati back on August 15th being postponed after only having completed two games of the four game set. This is the second of four double headers that Pittsburgh is scheduled to play after only playing three games in an day stretch back in mid-August. In their first experience using the new, just for this season format the Pirates performed well; taking both games from the Cardinals a little over a week ago. However, since that time the Pirates have only won two more games in seven tries to drop to 11-24. On the season the Reds have not executed much better; currently sitting only 4 games ahead of the Pirates in the standings, which comes as somewhat of a surprise considering the positive projections many made prior to the start of the year.
In the first of two, the home game for the Pirates, they sent lefty Steven Brault to face off against Luis Castillo for Cincinnati. It has been an up and down year for Brault to say the least, however he was able to put on a strong performance his last time out; not allowing an earned run in three innings of work, while striking out five. Also it should be noted that he is 4-0 lifetime versus the Reds with a 1.99 ERA, so it makes complete sense for him to get the start against them. On the other hand Castillo has had a disappointing year all around. Coming off a stellar 2019 campaign, where he posted a 15-8 record, a 3.40 ERA and a 1.14 WHIP expectations were elevated for the young hurler. In 7 starts this season he has yet to record a victory, seen his ERA (4.10) and his WHIP (1.47) climb and allowed batters to hit .267 against him; most of which are well above his previous career highs.
In spite of the strong career numbers that Brault had against Cincinnati, this afternoon turned out to be a mix of an up and a down performance as he gave up 3 earned runs on 6 hits, including a Nick Castellanos homer, in 4.2 innings on 96 pitches. He did strikeout 6 batters and was the victim of some blunders by the defense behind him, so this inconsistent performance was not completely on him by any stretch of the imagination.
Brault’s counterpart, Castillo, continued to pitch how he has for the most of year as the Pirates threatened to score against him on multiple occasions, getting to him in the bottom of the third thanks to Colin Moran’s second single and Gregory Polanco’s second double on the day; bringing the Pirates within one at the time, 3-2. He would eventually settle down retiring all but one Pirates batter in the fifth and sixth innings; allowing a free pass to Ke’Bryan Hayes before being lifted from the game. His final line was 2 earned runs, 7 hits, 8 strike outs and 2 walks on 93 pitches in 6 full innings.
With both starters out of the game it was time for both bullpens to go work. The Pirates got a little of a head start as Dovydas Neverauskas and Tyler Bashlor combined for 2.1 scoreless innings. Raisel Iglesias came in to pitch the bottom of the seventh and quickly shutdown the Pirates for his 5th save of the year as the first game ended 4-2.
In second game, Cincinnati was listed as the home team, not that there should be much of an advantage or disadvantage without fans in the stands. However, being away from the friendly confines of Great American Smallpark has not been kind to the Reds batters this year as the have hit 18 less homers, posted a .198 versus a .230 batting average and had their OPS drop from .788 to .650. Luckily in this contest they had one of their best pitchers on the year, Trevor Bauer set to take the hill, hoping that would even things out. In 6 starts on the year Bauer has earned career lows in WHIP (.74) and ERA (2.13), while striking out 54 batters in 38 innings of work. For the Pirates, Cody Ponce would be making only his second career start; looking to build upon his last performance against the Cardinals, during which he did not allow a single run in 5.2 innings.
Bauer allowed a single to Bryan Reynolds in the first and triple to Ke’Bryan Hayes in the second, but the Pirates weren’t able to capitalize on either. Hayes would single off Bauer in the top of the fourth for his second hit of the game, advancing Colin Moran to third base. This time the Pirates wouldn’t waste the opportunity as Anthony Alford brought in both runners with a sharply hit triple to center; scoring himself one batter later on a wild pitch from the obviously rattled Bauer to give Pittsburgh a 3-2 lead.
Ponce found himself in trouble in the bottom of the first after a leadoff walk, but almost worked out of it before giving up a 2 run homer to Eugenio Suarez. For the next two innings he found a groove, striking out the side in the bottom of the 3rd. A solo home run by Mike Moustakas in the 4th would break this rhythm to tie it up at 3 a piece.
As the teams moved into the 5th it was a brand new ballgame as both teams would battle to gain the lead before forcing extras following the seventh inning. The Pirates would strike first as Cincinnati sacrificed a run on a double play after back to back singles from Kevin Newman and Adam Frazier . In the bottom half of the inning, Sam Howard came on to replace Ponce who finished the game with 4 strikeouts, 1 walk and 3 earned runs on 71 pitches; promptly retiring the Reds in order. The 6th was a wash as Bauer, Chris Stratton and Nik Turley put up zeros on the scoreboard.
Moving into the 7th Trevor Bauer was lifted in favor of Lucas Sims, who proceeded to retire the side on only 10 pitches; setting up the possibility of a walk of win on the road. However, Richard Rodriguez had other ideas as he also retired the Red in order to earn his 3rd save of the season in a Pirates 4-3 victory.
After a double header split, the Pirates will look to get an edge in the four games series on Saturday at 7:05 EST as Trevor Williams (1-5, 5.50 ERA) faces off against Anthony DeSclafani.