By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — When the Pittsburgh Pirates rolled into town visions like sugar plums danced in the heads of the Cincinnati Reds: “We can make our move toward getting out of last place.”
The Reds were anchoring last place in the National League Central, 4 1/2 games behind the fourth place Pirates before the series began. With a three-game series scheduled in Great American Ball Park, the home team thought it could apply some pressure and creep ever closer to clawing its way out of the cellar.
The Pirates have alternate ideas. The Pirates are playing world class baseball. The Pirates are beating up on the Reds, pushing them ever deeper into the depths of the NL Central.
After destroying the Reds, 12-1, Friday night, the Pirates came back Saturday to apply a 6-2 beating. Suddenly the Reds are 6 1/2 games behind the Pirates, winners of eight straight and 10 of their last 11.
Pittsburgh left fielder Corey Dickerson took advantage of Cincinnati starter Anthony DeSclafani’s propensity for giving up home runs. Dickerson, who homered Friday night, cleared the outfield fences twice Saturday.
He helped shorten DeSclafani’s night with his home run in the fifth, another short night by a Reds starter — 4 1/3 innings, three runs, six hits, two walks and six strikeouts. DeSclafani has given up 14 home runs in his 48 1/3 innings this season. After Dickerson’s second home run, DeSclafani left with a 3-0 deficit.
“Honestly, it has been home runs that hurt me,” said DeSclafani. “That’s just not keeping guys off balance. If I can keep balls in the yard I can keep myself with a better shot every outing, you know? Those solo home runs are just chipping away at me. I have to figure a way to keep the ball off the barrel a little more I can go deeper into these games, put up better lines, and do what I know I can do.”
Michael Lorenzen took over in the sixth and gave up a two-run single to opposing pitcher Nick Kingham, who dragged a .063 batting average to the plate with him.
Kingham, a 26-year-old rookie with a 41-40 minor league record, was a mystery man to the Reds at the plate but even more on the mound through six innings. He held the Reds to no runs and two hits and even came back after the obligatory rain delay during a Cincinnati-Pittsburgh game, this one lasting 45 minutes at the end of the third inning.
It all changed in the seventh when Jesse Winker, who owned one of the two earlier hits off Kingham to extend his hitting streak to 12 games, poked his second hit, a single to left field. With one out, catcher Curt Casali lobbed a 3-and-2 pitch over the left field wall, a two-run home run. That cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 5-2 and concluded Kingham’s night.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle brought in Edgar Santana, a guy who never set foot on a baseball field until he was 19. But Hurdle said he is a fast learner and was quickly in the HOV lane on his way to the majors, “With a slider that has a left turn signal.”
He finished the seventh by giving up a single, but nothing more. And the Pirates retrieved one of those two runs in the eighth when Jared Hughes gave up two singles and threw a run-scoring wild pitch to make it 6-2.
Kyle Crick quickly tore through the filet mignon of the Reds lineup in the eighth, 1-2-3 while striking out both Scooter Gennett and Eugenio Suarez.
All that remained was for the Pirates to bring in their left handed All-Star closer, hard-throwing Felipe Vazquez. He struck out Winker on a full-count 98 miles an hour fastball on the low end of the strike zone, but Adam Duvall doubled for the Reds sixth hit. Vasquez then hit Casali on the upper right arm with a pitch.
Pinch-hitter Tucker Barnhart struck out swinging and Billy Hamilton popped to shallow right and the Pirates continued to push away from the Reds.
Back-up catcher Casali, who nearly homered his first time up and did homer his third time to prove all the Cincinnati runs, was wearing an ice bag on his right biceps after the game and said, “It hit me twice. There are baseball stitch marks on my forearm and it rolled up to my biceps. It doesn’t feel too good.”
Of his team’s slow start out of the post All-Star gate, Casali said, “The last two days we got behind, so anything I could do to boost it a little bit (with his home run), help in the dugout because we were pretty quiet the last two games.”
Losing by 12-1 and 6-2 will do that to a team.
Manager Jim Riggleman agreed that his offense is a little stagnant at the moment and he said, “Yeah, a little bit, but that’s baseball. They’ve pitched good and they were hot before the break and they are hot now and playing good baseball.”
He remains on the upbeat, though, and added, “We’re playing fine. The bats just haven’t kicked back in yet. I’m confident we will. The guys are irritated about losing these games and irritated about not getting hits.”