Pirates look to continue early success vs. Reds

Two clubs heading in opposite directions so far this season will meet in the third game of a four-game series Saturday when the Cincinnati Reds play the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park.

The Pirates (6-1) were maligned for offseason moves that included trading away outfielder and five-time All-Star Andrew McCutchen and No. 1 starter Gerrit Cole, and not signing any free agents. Yet they are leading the National League Central and are off to their best start since 1976.

“It’s a good confidence-booster,” Trevor Williams, Pittsburgh’s starter Friday, told the team website. “We came out of spring training knowing that we were a good team. Now that we have tangible evidence that we’re a good team, it’s been fun.”

The Reds (1-5) underwent a conscious youth movement last season with the intent of building for the future, but they sit at the bottom of the division, emphatically so after dropping a 14-3 game Friday.

After collecting 15 hits in their first five games, the Reds banged out 13 Friday, but they rarely were of the timely type.

Right-hander Chad Kuhl (1-0, 6.35 ERA) is scheduled to start Saturday for Pittsburgh against Reds righty Sal Romano (0-1, 4.50 ERA).

Kuhl had trouble with Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera and Nicholas Castellanos but mostly stayed in front of the rest of the Tigers lineup and had good control Sunday in Pittsburgh’s 8-6 win.

He allowed four runs and eight hits in 5 2/3 innings, with four strikeouts and no walks.

“Ugly line, kind of, a little bit,” Kuhl said. “But it was really just those three-four guys that did the damage.”

It was still better than his line from spring, when he had a 10.06 ERA and 2.06 WHIP in 17 innings, so his second start of the season Saturday could indicate what direction he is taking early this season.

The fact that Romano was able to get through six innings, allowing four hits and four walks with two strikeouts, in a 6-5 loss Sunday at Washington was fairly impressive given what he had working for him.

“I basically had only one pitch, and that was my sinker,” Romano said. “I wasn’t really able to throw my curveball or changeup for a strike.”

He quickly realized his limitations and adjusted.

“Those last five innings, I was really able to work on my sinker, mixing speeds with it and trying not to just throw it as hard as I can,” Romano said. “I was just trying to throw it over the plate and let them beat it into the ground.”

If he can find some command with more than one pitch Saturday, things might be different.

Romano is 1-2 with 3.00 ERA in three career starts against Pittsburgh, all last season, his first in the majors.

During the second half of last season, he led Cincinnati pitchers with 79 innings pitched as the Reds were in the midst of a youth movement.

Reds right fielder Scott Schebler, who left Monday’s game because of elbow soreness, was expected back Thursday and then Friday, but he remained out of the lineup.

Meanwhile, Pirates left-hander Kevin Siegrist was placed on the suspended list by the club after he failed to report to Triple-A Indianapolis by Thursday.