By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — When last seen, the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates were holding a impromptu gathering around home plate at PNC Park with some shoving, finger-pointing and some words exchange not suitable for a church picnic.
Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart was clinging to the leg of Yasiel Puig, trying to restrain him from dismantling the Roberto Clemente Bridge.
It was the after shock of Pittsburgh pitcher Chris Archer throwing a pitch behind Derek Dietrich, whose sin was to stand unacceptably long at home plate, admiring a home run that nearly knocked down a satellite.
So the two teams are back together again for a four-game series in Great American Ball Park, beginning with a Memorial Day doubleheader.
Even though there is no hidden agenda, it is a fact that the Pirates and Reds use each other for target practice more than any other two teams. It has subsided a bit over the last season, but there was a time not long ago when it seemed batters were being plunked every game.
Derek Dietrich was in the Game One lineup Monday, batting clean-up. Reds manager David Bell expects no repercussions from Dietrich’s Deed in Pittsburgh. But it might be wise to see what he does if he drives one deep into the right field sun deck — will he watch or will he trot?
“Naw, I wouldn’t expect a carryover,” said Bell. “There is too much emphasis on it being all about going out and winning the games. There is no time to think about that, really.”
What the Reds might have more on their mind is a chance to scramble within three games of .500 for the first time this year. And they can get within two with a doubleheader sweep.
Game One was the ninth time the Reds had a chance to get within three games of .500 with a win. They lost all eight times previously.
“Sure, that’s a step we need to take (.500) before we can get anywhere else,” said Bell. “Really, the focus here, with this team, is finding little ways every day to get better. It sounds boring but that’s really where our focus is.
“And it is about the way we are competing,” he added. “As you win, you gain that confidence. And the record and where we are in the standings will work itself out if we continue to get better.”
There is proof positive that getting better is being accomplished after the Reds opened the season 1-and-8. Since April 9, only the first place Cubs have a better record in the National League Central than the Reds.
The Cubs are 27-14, with four of those losses placed at the feet of the Reds while only two of those wins are against Cincinnati. The Reds are 23-20, Milwaukee is 22-21, St. Louis is 21-21 and Pittsburgh is 20-21.
ALEX WOOD (remember him?), the pitcher the Reds acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers along with Yasiel Puig and Kyle Farmer, has yet to throw a pitch for the Reds.
He was supposed to be part of the team’s five-man rotation but back problems struck him down during spring training and he is slowly working his way back.
After a long process at extended spring training in Arizona, Wood joined the team this week in Cincinnati but remains a work in slow progress.
“Wood is on a (sideline) throwing program, but he doesn’t have a bullpen program scheduled yet,” said Bell. “I’m sure it will happen sometime in the next two weeks. He’ll increase his throwing every day in the outfield.
“Once he completes his throwing program and some bullpen sessions then he’ll go out on a rehab assignment (in the minors),” Bell added. “It was good to see him today and I got to catch up with him.
“It is a big step for him to just be here, to be around the team,” Bell added. “He did that once before but it seems different this time. He is not feeling any pain. Now it is a matter of building his arm back up because his back is healthy. We hope the energy of him just being around the team will help him get back sooner.”