Judging by the first two games of this series, it may be difficult to believe that the Cincinnati Reds and Pittsburgh Pirates have had trouble providing run support for their top starters.
Cincinnati and Pittsburgh look to change that Wednesday at Great American Ball Park as Johnny Cueto and Francisco Liriano square off for the first time since October’s NL wild-card game.
The Reds (5-9) and Pirates (7-7) have combined for 13 homers and 44 hits while splitting the first two games, both of which were completed Tuesday.
Pittsburgh won Monday’s suspended contest 8-7 on Russell Martin’s RBI single in the seventh, and Cincinnati later responded with a 7-5 victory with the help of a double and two-run homer from starting pitcher Mike Leake.
Joey Votto, who hit a two-run homer in the fifth inning Monday, went 4 for 4 in Tuesday’s full game and is hitting .471 with three homers and six RBIs during a five-game hitting streak. Votto, Todd Frazier and Devin Mesoraco all drove in two runs.
The Reds have scored 26 times over their last three games after totaling 28 runs through their first 11, a stretch during which they wasted some quality efforts from Cueto.
Cueto (0-2, 2.14 ERA) has been stellar in his three starts, pitching seven innings and allowing two runs or fewer in each while striking out 23. He’s received a total of three runs of support – all of which came before the bullpen collapsed in a 6-3 loss to the New York Mets on April 5.
"That’s something I can’t control," Cueto said after Friday’s 2-1 loss to Tampa Bay. "That’s up to the other part of the team. I always say I have to do my job. I have to throw seven, eight innings. I have to do my job and they have to do their job."
The right-hander had gone 7-2 with a 1.43 ERA in his last 12 starts against the Pirates before giving up four runs and eight hits in just 3 1-3 innings of a 6-2 loss to Pittsburgh in last season’s NL wild-card game. Liriano gave up one run and four hits in seven frames to earn the win.
Like Cueto, though, he’s received only three runs of support over three starts this season.
After striking out 10 in six innings of Pittsburgh’s 1-0, 10-inning victory over the Chicago Cubs on March 31, Liriano (0-2, 4.00) gave up four runs in six frames of losses to St. Louis on April 5 and Milwaukee on Friday.
The left-hander retired the first nine batters he faced and struck out seven in the 4-2 loss to Brewers, but he gave up a two-run homer in the fourth and a solo shot in the fifth.
"Vintage Frankie, with the fastball command, the changeup, then the slider for the wipeout pitch," manager Clint Hurdle said. "There’s such a fine line on the mound sometimes."
Liriano’s five starts against the Reds all came last season, and he went 0-3 with a 3.70 ERA prior to the playoff victory. He’ll look to help the Pirates get back on track after they fell for the fourth time in five games.
Neil Walker is 5 for 9 with three homers in the series and has gone deep five times in his last three games in Cincinnati, but he’s 6 for 30 against Cueto.