Gennett, Reds aim to extend Pirates’ skid

Scooter Gennett is one of baseball’s biggest bargains, and not just because of his not-small but affordable salary of $5.7 million. It’s also because of what the Cincinnati Reds paid to pick up their everyday second baseman.

Nothing.

Not a player. Not a draft pick. Not a penny, other than his salary.

Gennett was released by the Milwaukee Brewers at the end of 2017 spring training in one of the majors’ most baffling player personnel decisions of recent vintage and was promptly picked by his hometown Reds.

Gennett continues to reward the Reds, hitting a grand slam — his fifth in the last two seasons — and a double while driving in six runs Tuesday night as Cincinnati beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 7-2 in the first game of a three-game series. It was the most RBIs by a Reds player since Gennett drove in 10 during his four home-run game against the St. Louis Cardinals nearly a year ago, on June 6, 2017.

Gennett jumped his average to .324 by going 2-for-3, and he’ll be a challenge to Pirates right-hander Chad Kuhl as the two NL Central teams meet again Wednesday night at Great American Ball Park. Kuhl (4-2) faces struggling Reds right-hander Homer Bailey (1-6), who has won only once in 10 starts.

The Pirates, down 2-1, chose to intentionally walk Joey Votto to load the bases and face Gennett in the fifth inning, despite Gennett’s proven ability to hit grand slams, and he homered on Jameson Taillon’s very next pitch.

“We’re playing good ball and getting us up there by a few runs was important,” Gennett said, pointing to the last-place Reds’ nine wins in 14 games. “I definitely understand walking him there, but I like that situation because you’re going to get something to hit.”

Gennett hasn’t had much success against Kuhl, going 1-for-12 (.083), but he’s been on a run lately with eight multiple-hit games in 13 games since May 7. He’s also had a pair of three-hit games and a four-hit game while driving in 19 runs over the last two weeks.

“He’s got a lot of big hits for us,” interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “We wanted him hitting after Joey Votto, and that’s the reason right there.”

The Reds also got another effective start from newly acquired right-hander Matt Harvey (1-2), who limited the Pirates — losers of their last four — to one run and three hits over six innings. The Reds have won each of Harvey’s three starts since acquiring him from the New York Mets for catcher Devin Mesoraco.

Now, the Reds — saddled with a 17-32 record — would like to get their other veteran right-hander going. Bailey has struggled all year, as evidenced by his 6.11 ERA, and he’s given up 20 hits and nine earned runs over 9 2/3 innings in his last two starts, and one of those was his only win of the season.

His last time out, Bailey was roughed up for 10 hits and six runs, five earned, and walked five in 4 2/3 innings of an 8-1 loss to the Chicago Cubs on Friday.

Just as Kuhl will be challenged by Gennett, Bailey must try to figure out new Pirates center fielder Austin Meadows, who was 6-for-15 (.400) with a home run in his first four major league games. Meadows went 1-for-4 and drove in a run Tuesday.

Meadows was on a hot streak in the minors before being recalled Friday from Triple-A Indianapolis and, Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said, “If he felt more confident walking in the door because of the surge, so be it. He hasn’t backed off since he’s been here.”

Bailey threw a no-hitter against the Pirates on Sept. 28, 2012 and is 10-7 with a 3.55 ERA in 22 starts against them. He lost to them 5-2 at PNC Park on April 5, giving up seven hits and five runs, four earned, in 4 2/3 innings.

Gregory Polanco is 3-for-7 (.429) against Bailey, while Josh Bell is 2-for-7 (.286). The Pirates batters who have faced him the most are David Freese (9-for-29, two homers, .310), Josh Harrison (4-for-18, .222) and Jordy Mercer (3-for-15, .200).

Kuhl is 1-1 with a 3.24 ERA in three games against the Reds — throwing seven shutout innings of four-hit ball last season during a 6-0 Pirates victory on Aug. 3, only to give up four runs and eight hits in a 4-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Sept. 15.

While Gennett struggles against Kuhl, Votto hasn’t while going 5-for-6 (.833) with one homer and two RBIs. Adam Duvall is 2-for-9 (.222) and Eugenio Suarez is 2-for-8 (.250).