By HAL McCOY
Anybody who thought Amir Garrett could match his major league debut, let alone better it, was thinking with a cloudy brain.
How can you improve upon six scoreless innings against the St. Louis Cardinals in a major league debut?
Ask the Pittsburgh Pirates, who resembled anchored statues in the batter’s box Wednesday night in PNC Park.
Garrett was as untouchable as Eliot Ness for six more innings while pitching the Cincinnati Reds to a 9-2 victory to complete a three-game sweep of the Pirates, who were coming off a three-game sweep of the Atlanta Braves. And the Reds are an unfathomable 7-and-2 to start the 2017 season.
Garrett, the 24-year-old former college basketball player, applied a full-court press on the Pirates — six scoreless innings on two hits, extending his major league scoreless streak to 12 innings.
The spell ended in the seventh when he gave up an infield squibbler hit to Andrew McCutchen and David Freese hit one over the right field wall. But the Reds led 8-0 at the time. Freese’s home run was the one and only extra base hit the Pirates produced in the three games.
Garrett couldn’t finish the seventh. After the home run, he got out, but hit the next batter and his night was finished — 6 2/3 innings, two runs, five hits, no walks, five strikeouts and one hit batter. He threw 96 pitches, 64 for strikes.
PITTSBURGH STARTER Ivan Nova, who pitched six shutout innings in his first game against the Braves, matched Garrett for four innings.
But he got his pitches up in the fifth and the Reds were up, up and away to score four runs on four hits, three of them doubles.
With Nova suddenly looking like a mechanical pitching machine, Zack Cozart led the fifth with a double to left. Tucker Barnhart doubled for his first RBI this season. Garrett bunted and everybody was safe of catcher Francisco Cervelli’s throwing error.
Billy Hamilton singled to make it 2-0 and Jose Peraza doubled for two more and a 4-0 lead.
The Reds turned it into a rout against Antonio Bastardo in the seventh when he had two outs and nobody on. He gave up an infield single, walked two straight, then offered a batting practice full-count fastball to Eugenio Suarez and he blasted it for a three-run double. Scott Schebler followed with a double and it was 8-0.
A struggling Joey Votto entered the fun in the eighth with a run-scoring single that pushed the score to 9-2 and put Votto’s batting average at an anemic .171.
For the first time this season the Reds did not hit a home run, but they had five doubles. Suarez had three hits and drove in three, lifting his batting average to .429. And Jose Peraza had his first three-hit game of the season and is hitting .297.
AS FOR THE OVERALL picture, the Cincinnati Reds and winning have a thing going on their first nine games.
You name it, they are doing it with the efficiency of a Swiss watch. Hitting? Yes. Pitching? Yes, especially the bullpen. Defense? Yes, especially center fielder Billy Hamilton (what’s new) and third baseman Eugenio Suarez (ever improving). Baserunning? Near perfection.
On a somber note, pitcher Rookie Davis was placed on the 10-day disabled list after he was hit on the forearm with a pitch Tuesday. That means he won’t make his Sunday start, a start that probably will go to Cody Reed.
BAD MEMORIES DRIFTED into The Man Cave during Wednesday afternoon’s New York Yankees-Tampa Bay Rays game on MLB-TV.
Former Reds relief pitcher Jumbo Diaz, now employed by the Rays, came into the game with a 3-1 lead and blew it. In only two-thirds of an inning Jumbo gave up three runs (two earned), three hits and a walk. Not only did he blow a save, was pinned with the 8-4 loss.
After the Rays-Yankees game, it was the St. Louis Cardinals against the Washington Nationals, with former Reds pitcher Mike Leake on the mound for the Cardinals.
Leake was the unfortunate loser last Friday, 2-0, against the Reds and Amir Garrett during which he gave up one run and six hits in eight innings.
He was stunning against the Nationals, long hair flowing. Wearing No. 8, a strange number for a pitcher, Leake easily outdueled Nationals ace Max Scherzer in a 6-1 victory.
At one point, Leake retired 19 in a row, including two strikeouts of Bryce Harper. He pitched seven innings and gave up no runs, four hits, walked none and struck out seven.
The Reds traded Leake to the San Francisco Giants for Adam Duvall and the Reds remain ecstatic over the deal.
MEANWHILE, FORMER REDS right fielder Jay Bruce is having an early-season renaissance for the New York Mets.
In his first 35 plate appearances he has four home runs, a team-leading eight RBI, six walks, only four strikeouts, a .724 slugging average and a 1.124 OPS.