Chad Kuhl, Pirates bullpen battered as red-hot Reds complete 3-game sweep

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Kevin Gorman, The Tribune-Review, Greensburg
·5 min read
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Apr. 7—From the first pitch, the Pittsburgh Pirates knew they were in for a long day.

And it didn't matter whether it was starter Chad Kuhl or reliever Chris Stratton on the mound.

Tyler Naquin hit Kuhl's first pitch over the left-field fence to lead off a five-run first inning, and Nick Castellanos drove Stratton's first pitch over the right-field wall to start a three-run fifth as the Cincinnati Reds pounded the Pirates, 11-4, Wednesday afternoon at Great American Ball Park.

Pirates shortstop Erik Gonzalez hit a grand slam in the ninth to prevent a shutout. The red-hot Reds outscored the Pirates, 30-8, in sweeping the three-game series as they scored 57 runs through their first six games.

The reeling Pirates dropped their fifth consecutive game after beating the Chicago Cubs on Opening Day. The Pirates host the Cubs at 1:35 p.m. Thursday in the home opener at PNC Park.

Naquin hit a leadoff homer for the second consecutive game, the first player to do so against the Pirates since the San Francisco Giants' Bobby Bonds homered off Nellie Briles in a 3-2 win over the Pirates on June 5, 1973, and again off Steve Blass in a 9-7 win the following day.

"I don't know if I've ever seen it," Pirates manager Derek Shelton said of Naquin, who is hitting .316 with four homers and 13 RBIs through five games. "Naquin's feeling it right now. We've seen him before (in Cleveland). I've seen him a lot when I was in Minnesota, and he's in a spot right now that a lot of hitters like to be in."

Kuhl had a rough outing in his second start, allowing five runs on two hits and five walks over four innings. The first five batters he faced reached base, as Nick Castellanos reached on a Wilmer Difo throwing error from third base and Kuhl walked Joey Votto, Mike Moustakas and then Nick Senzel with the bases loaded. Jonathan India's sacrifice fly scored Votto for a 3-0 lead, and Kyle Farmer followed with a two-run double to make it 5-0.

"Really, it just didn't go well," Kuhl said. "It's a home run in four parks, just a 350-foot fly ball, and I made the pitch that I wanted to make. Then I made another good pitch and (it was) just kind of unfortunate. Difo was trying to make a play. Can't fault him, it just happens. Just gotta move on."

Kuhl, however, called the five walks "unacceptable," and said he made the adjustment to his mentality of being in the strike zone instead of dabbling around it.

"He's got to put the ball on the plate," Shelton said. "We gave up a home run on the first pitch that was very conducive to this ballpark, and then we booted the next ball. We've got to bounce back and put the ball on the plate and put ourselves in a situation to end that inning. He's just got to be on the plate. I mean, he bounces back in the later innings and does it, but we need that from jump street."

Kuhl rebounded to strike out five of the next six batters before hitting India in the helmet in the third with a pitch that got away. When India dropped to the dirt, Kuhl squatted at the foot of the mound and lowered his head.

"You're just praying for the guy," Kuhl said. "I mean, you never want that to happen. I'm not trying to hit anybody, really, in any situation. It was just a two-seamer that ran up. Thankfully, he was OK."

India remained in the game and made the Pirates pay in the fifth. Stratton surrendered the homer to Castellanos, a single to Votto and a double to Senzel that set the table for India to hit a two-run single for an 8-0 lead.

The Pirates blew a scoring chance in the fourth, when Difo hit a leadoff double but made a bad read on a double down the right-field line by Phillip Evans and was thrown out at the plate on a relay while trying to score. Difo went 3 for 4 with two doubles, but also had the throwing error and the baserunning gaffe.

The Reds added another run in the seventh, when Moustakas singled off Michael Feliz and Senzel followed with a run-scoring triple that skipped off the leg of Evans in left field and into the corner for a 9-0 lead.

David Bednar allowed his first runs as a Pirates reliever, giving up back-to-back homers to Tyler Stephenson to right field and Aristedes Aquino to left to make it 11-0 in the eighth.

The Pirates rallied against Reds closer Amir Garrett in the ninth, as Difo hit a leadoff double, Colin Moran drew a walk and Evans singled before Gonzalez drove 1-0 pitch over the right-center wall.

Shelton sounded like someone ready to return to PNC Park for the first homestand of the season.

"I think our group is excited to be at home in front of our own fans," Shelton said. "You miss it for a year, and I think there's been anticipation building up to it. We're ready to get home. We're definitely ready to get out of Cincinnati. So we're ready to get home and play in front of our fans."

Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin by email at kgorman@triblive.com or via Twitter .