Reds hope to continue mastery of Pirates’ Nova

Ivan Nova must have looked at the Pittsburgh Pirates‘ pitching plans a week or so ago and said to himself, “The Cincinnati Reds? Not again.”

The Reds (17-33) own the National League’s worst record, but have done a number on Nova. They’ll try to do another one Thursday afternoon at Great American Ball Park when Nova and Reds right-hander Luis Castillo match up to close out the three-game National League Central series.

Josh Harrison’s RBI triple in the 12th was the key hit as the Pirates squandered a 4-0 lead but still evened the series with a 5-4, viictory Wednesday night. While the Reds rallied, they couldn’t convert in several late-inning clutch situations.

Rookie Brandon Dixon, called up Monday, struck out with the bases loaded to end the eighth, was called out for interference while trying to put down a sacrifice bunt in the 11th, then grounded out with the bases loaded to end the game after the Reds put runners on first and third with no one out in the 12th.

Cincinnati also had the potential winning run on second in the 11th.

“It was a weird game, but (we) made the right pitches at the right time,” said Harrison, who is from Cincinnati. “There’s no place like home, and when I’m playing before my family, I always like to play well.”

Nova is considered the Pirates’ top starter, but can’t seem to beat the Reds — well, at least recently. He was 0-4 against them against in 2017– four of his losses during an 11-14 season were to one team — and he’s lost five consecutive decisions to them dating to a 4-1, complete-game victory over Cincinnati on Sept. 8, 2016.

He is 3-6 with a 4.47 ERA against the Reds, figuring in the decision in all nine starts.

The right-handed Nova (2-4, 4.79 ERA) also is struggling of late, losing his last three decisions and going winless in his last six starts. He hasn’t won since April 15, when he allowed three runs over six innings while defeating the Miami Marlins 7-3.

Nova didn’t get much help in his most recent start, a 3-2 loss to the San Diego Padres on Friday in which the Pirates stranded 13 runners and went 2-for-15 with runners in scoring position. He gave up three runs (two earned) and six hits over six innings.

The Padres’ key hit against Nova was Eric Hosmer’s two-out, check-swing double in the sixth, which led to Franchy Cordero’s RBI single.

“Curveball down and away, check-swing double, not too much to talk about there,” Nova said. “What can you do about it? Maybe make a better pitch, who knows? It was off the plate. He just checked (his) swing and hit a double. Nothing you can do about it.”

Just like Nova seems to get nothing done whenever he faces the Reds.

The 25-year-old Castillo is pitching better than his numbers — 3-4 record, 5.61 ERA — would suggest. He received a no-decision his last time out, a 5-4, 11-inning Reds victory over the Chicago Cubs in the first game of a doubleheader Saturday, but the Reds have won his last three starts and four of his last five. He’s also won his last two decisions.

However, Castillo is 0-2 in three career starts against the Pirates, including a 14-3 defeat in Pittsburgh on April 6 in which the game got away from the bullpen after he permitted four runs and six hits in five innings.

Nova has a track record — most of it not good — against a number of Reds batters. Tucker Barnhart is 6-for-15, Eugenio Suarez is 7-for-18 and Scott Schebler is 7-for-19 with one homer and four RBIs. Adam Duvall is 5-for-20 with a homer and three RBIs, Joey Votto is 7-for-26 with one homer and five RBIs and Scooter Gennett is 1-for-11.

The Pirates’ Colin Moran is 2-for-2 with a double and three RBIs against Castillo, but Harrison is 0-for-8, and Josh Bell and Jordy Mercer are each 1-for-6.

The Reds will be without closer Raisel Iglesias, who went on the 10-day disabled list Wednesday with a strained left biceps. The Reds got back right-hander Michael Lorenzen, who strained a muscle near his right shoulder during spring training. He pitched in 70 games for them last season, and worked a scoreless 10th inning Wednesday.