CINCINNATI– Through six games, the Cincinnati Reds (5-1) are off to the best start in the National League after taking two of three from division-rival Pittsburgh (4-2) over the weekend at Great American Ball Park.
After splitting the first two games on Friday and Saturday, Sunday offered a rubber match that also featured ‘Kids Opening Day’ at the stadium.
With the scored tied at one in the bottom of the ninth, Jay Bruce’s double down the right-field line scored Brandon Phillips, who raced home all the way from first to crown the Reds series’ winners.
Ross Ohlendorf avenged the three earned runs he allowed in Friday night’s loss by tossing a scoreless ninth inning to beat the team he pitched for from 2008-’11 and earn his second win of the young season.
Making his MLB debut for the Reds in place of the injured Anthony DeSclafani was right hander Tim Melville. After seven years in the minors, the 26 year old finally got his shot in the majors and left with a no decision, tossing four innings and allowing just one run.
The lone mark on Melville’s debut was courtesy of Pirates’ catcher Chris Stewart, who notched his first home run since August of 2013 in the second inning to give Pittsburgh a 1-0 lead.
Despite letting numerous scoring opportunities slip away, the Reds finally were able to even the score on a solo homer from the red-hot Eugenio Suarez in the bottom frame of the sixth, bringing his team-high batting average to .435.
Once again, Cincinnati was strong in the bullpen department with Dan Straily, Jumbo Diaz and Ohlendorf combining for five scoreless innings. Diaz and Ohlendorf both maneuvered their way out of trouble despite giving a pair of hits in one inning of work. Overall, Pittsburgh stranded 14 base runners.
The Suarez homer was the lone run allowed by Pirates’ starter Jeff Locke, who was given a no decision in his first start of 2016. It was Locke’s first start of five-plus innings versus Cincinnati since May 5th of last season.
While there really is no place like home, the Reds cannot stay in the Queen City forever. Tomorrow starts a six-game road trip for Cincinnati, starting with three in Chicago to face the Cubs.
Despite losing their coveted catcher Kyle Schwarber to a torn ACL, Chicago has matched the Reds’ hot start with five wins of their own, resulting in a first-place tie between the two clubs atop the NL Central heading into Monday’s opener of a three-game set at Wrigley Field.
Here are the probable pitchers for Monday:
(CIN) Brandon Finnegan (0-0, 3.00 ERA) vs. (CHI) Jon Lester (1-0, 1.29 ERA)
Finnegan: In his season debut last Wednesday, Finnegan tossed six strong innings against the Phillies, allowing two earned runs and striking out nine. He earned a no-decision as Cincinnati would rally in the ninth to defeat Philadelphia, 3-2.
Lester: The tall lefty returns for his second season in the Windy City to face Cincinnati in the Cubs’ home opener. In his first start of the season, Lester tossed seven innings of one-run ball to earn his first win, beating the Angels, 6-1. Against the Reds last season, Lester was 1-0 in four starts, allowing 11 earned runs over 27 innings.