Reds continue building process versus Pirates

PITTSBURGH — Even with 25 games left in the season, including Sunday’s rubber match of a series against the Pittsburgh Pirates at PNC Park, the Cincinnati Reds have made it clear they are looking ahead to next season.

The Reds (58-78) acknowledged before Saturday’s 5-0 loss to Pittsburgh (64-72) that they had exercised a club option that will bring manager Bryan Price back for 2018, and that his staff will also be invited to remain.

Cincinnati is in last place in the National League Central, with the Pirates seemingly the only team it could overtake in the standings. But the Reds — with four rookie starters in their rotation and other youngsters in the lineup — are set on building.

“Everybody that’s here with this staff is completely (committed) with what we’re doing and seeing this through to the other side,” Price said. “We want to be here when the team turns the corner, and we’re looking at talking about playing baseball in October again.

“Nobody wants to bail on this. I’m fortunate to come back for a fifth year. The win-loss (record) with me is not great in my four years here, but I think we’re handling adversity and handling it well. I think the players are responding to the staff and what we’re trying to do. They like playing together. I think we’ve got a lot better days ahead.”

Price is 266-356 with the Reds.

Cincinnati hasn’t made a series of September callups; many of its prospects were already in the major leagues.

The Pirates haven’t made any September callups, but they are taking a look at some young players here and there. Rookie outfielder Jordan Luplow, for instance, started Saturday and got his first two major league hits — a single and a three-run homer.

Pittsburgh also has taken long looks at several young pitchers, including Saturday’s starter, Jameson Taillon, and Sunday’s scheduled starter, Trevor Williams.

Williams (5-7, 4.37 ERA) is 0-3 over his past four starts, since he threw seven scoreless innings in a combined one-hitter Aug. 7 against Detroit, a 3-0 Pirates victory.

Although Williams, 25, has thrown 127 2/3 innings over 27 outings (21 starts) in his first full big league season, he is not close to being shut down or curtailed.

“We don’t think anything’s been jeopardized to this point,” manager Clint Hurdle said last week.

The most Williams has thrown in a season was 144 innings in 2014 as a minor-leaguer in the Miami organization.

“I feel fine,” Williams told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I put in a lot of work last offseason, and I put in a lot of work between starts to get the body ready.”

Williams is 0-1 with a 7.53 ERA in five career appearances against Cincinnati, two of those starts.

Cincinnati’s Sal Romano (4-5, 4.91 ERA), one of those rookies in the Reds rotation, is scheduled to make his 10th straight turn as the fifth starter. In those nine starts, he is 3-4 with a 4.97 ERA. He has three consecutive quality starts, during which is 2-0 with a 2.70 ERA.

He is coming off a strong game Tuesday against the New York Mets, when he gave up three runs and six hits in six innings — at one point retiring 10 straight batters — and enjoying lots of run support in a 14-4 victory.

In his only career appearance against Pittsburgh, Romano allowed four runs, eight hits over six innings, with three strikeouts and no runs, in a 6-0 Pirates victory Aug. 3 at PNC Park.

Following that game, the Reds gave Romano an evaluation just as the Pirates did with Williams last week. Price said a willingness to use the changeup, and do it effectively, is a big point of emphasis.

“It should find a greater role in his mix of pitches,” Price said. “It’s a necessary pitch as a starter. We preach that — if you’re not throwing your changeup, you’re making yourself a reliever.

“We have spent some time reminding Sal of that. He comes in and wants to throw fastball, breaking ball. The (changeup) I think at times he feels lacks a polish that would allow him to throw it against big-league hitters. But you know what? It will define if he’s a starting pitcher or a reliever. I really believe that. If we don’t make him throw it, then he’ll end up being a reliever.”