Reds seek to keep closing gap on Pirates (Sep 16, 2017)

CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Reds need five wins on this homestand to reach 68 wins, their total from last season. They also have a chance to close the gap on the Pittsburgh Pirates in the National League Central standings during this weekend’s three-game series in an effort to escape last place.

First and foremost, the Reds are trying to get an extended look at their young arms during the last few weeks of the season. Rookie right-hander Sal Romano will make his third start of the season against the Pirates, and his 14th overall, on Saturday afternoon at Great American Ball Park.

Romano (4-6, 4.54 ERA) is one of four rookies in the Reds’ rotation. And while he doesn’t turn 24 until October, Romano is improving with each start, going 2-1 with a 2.64 ERA with three quality starts in his past five appearances. He is 0-2 with a 3.86 ERA in two starts against Pittsburgh.

Romano is coming off an emotional start on Sunday in his native New York against the Mets. He did not factor into the decision in the Reds’ 10-5 win, allowing two earned runs with no walks and six strikeouts in five innings.

“He was able to throw his changeup for strikes, called strikes,” Reds manager Bryan Price said, according to “And he threw some really good breaking balls, both to finish hitters and to get back in the count. That’s the sign of a guy that can start up here. He doesn’t get himself in a corner.”

Pirates right-hander Ivan Nova will make his 29th start of the season on Saturday. It is his fourth start against the Reds this season. He is 0-3 with a 6.35 ERA in the previous three. Nova is 3-4 with a 4.68 ERA in eight career starts against Cincinnati.

In his most recent start, Nova allowed five earned runs on five hits in five innings in a 7-0 loss against the Cardinals in St. Louis. Since the All-Star break, Nova has been scuffling with a 2-7 record and 6.62 ERA in nine starts.

Including a 4-2 win in the series opener Friday night, Cincinnati (64-84) is 11-6 versus the Pirates this season including a 5-3 mark at Great American Ball Park. The Reds won eight of the first nine meetings to begin this season but have since lost four of five.

The Pirates (68-80) have lost three straight games, and are now four games ahead of the Reds in fourth place in the NL Central.

Both clubs are in rebuilding mode, and both are looking for something to build on for the 2018 season and beyond.

“We’re going to keep trying,” said Pirates catcher Francisco Cervelli who’s working his way back from a left quad injury. “There are a lot of young guys here. I want to help. I think we have something special for next year. A lot of people see the things that happened here as something bad. We have to take some positive things. I want to be part of the rebuild, the work with the young guys.”