Reds feeling good vibrations as they get back to .500

Apr 24, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman Neil Walker (18) slides in safely to score a run as Cincinnati Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco (39) applies a late tag during the first inning at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Charles LeClaire/Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

PITTSBURGH — Remember when the Reds were 3-8 and the sky was falling? The mood around the clubhouse is decidedly more upbeat these days. That’s what happens when a team starts winning.

The Reds got back to .500 (11-11) with a 2-1 win Thursday afternoon at PNC Park, enabling them to take three out of four games against the Pirates for their third consecutive series win of the season. It’s still April and there’s no reason to look too close at the standings. It’s never too soon to take stock of how a team is playing.

"We’re winning and it’s fun," said Tony Cingrani, who started and got credit for the victory Thursday to even his record at 2-2. "It’s awesome. Winning is noticeable, so it’s pretty fun. We don’t really worry about (records) right now because it’s so early in the season. It’s just fun winning."

How well are the Reds going right now? During the current 8-3 stretch all of their losses have been by a single run. They are still just 3-7 in one-run games and 4-9 in games decided by two runs or less but Thursday snapped a 10-game streak in which they scored at least four runs. Catcher Devin Mesoraco’s 11-game hitting streak and right fielder Jay Bruce’s six-game hitting streak each came to an end. The Reds managed just five hits in the game, including four off of starter Brandon Cumpton, who was called up from Triple-A Indianapolis to take the place of injured Wandy Rodriguez.

Cumpton brought a streak of 15 consecutive scoreless innings at the major league level into the game dating back to last season. He extended it to 20 innings before the Reds got to him. Cumpton hit three batters, including Joey Votto and Todd Frazier in the sixth inning.

Ryan Ludwick turned those hit-by-pitches into all the runs the Reds would end up needing. Ludwick drove the first pitch he saw from Cumpton, an 83-mph slider, into the gap in left-center field to easily score Votto and Frazier with two outs. It was the only hit the Reds got in eight at-bats with runners in scoring position.

"He did a good job. Wildly effective I’d call it," said Ludwick of Cumpton. "But our pitching put us in a scenario where one hit was enough to get it done. If our pitching continues to throw the ball like that, we’re going to keep winning series."

Cingrani got out of a two-on, one-out situation in the bottom of the inning. His pitch count was closing in on 100 but he jammed shortstop Jordy Mercer into popping out foul to Mesoraco and then got catcher Chris Stewart to fly out to Chris Heisey in center field.

Cingrani finished with 103 pitches after throwing 32 in the first inning. He struck out seven in his six innings and stranded seven Pirates on the bases. Pittsburgh’s lone hit in its eight at-bats against Cingrani with runners in scoring position came in the first inning when Pedro Alvarez grounded a ball towards right field that Phillips made a sliding attempt to stop. It went off the heel of his glove for an RBI single, but it’s a play that Phillips so routinely makes it could’ve just as easily been ruled an error.

Logan Ondrusek, appearing in just his fifth game of the season, got Andrew McCutchen to ground into a force play to end the seventh inning. McCutchen had four hits, including two home runs, in eight previous at-bats against Ondrusek.

"Guys are playing great ball now," said manager Bryan Price. "There’s a lot of enthusiasm with the club. Another silver lining moment for this game was Logan Ondrusek just coming in and doing his job in the seventh inning. Logan came up big-time today."

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The Reds head off to Atlanta for a three-game series with the Braves, who are in first place in the NL East, to complete a 10-game road trip. They are 5-2 on the trip so far.  

Again, it’s April and the Reds would certainly prefer to be better than 11-11 at this point but with nine of their next 12 games coming against the likes of the Braves, NL Central division leader Milwaukee and defending World Series champion Boston they’re playing well at the right time.

"The only reason I noticed it was I looked up at the banner (video board) going around the stadium and I saw each team’s records," said Ludwick. "It was about the second inning when I realized that if we’d won the game it would put us back to .500. When you look at our schedule on paper this month I believe it’s one of the toughest months no doubt about it as far as the teams we play. If we can come out of this thing on top with guys down then I think we’ll be in a pretty good position."

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