Reds seek third straight win over Pirates
The Pittsburgh Pirates are trying not to dig too deep a hole in the NL Central, but their continued mediocrity within the division isn't helping.
An unexpected team with one of the shovels is the Cincinnati Reds, who seek their third straight win over the visiting Pirates on Tuesday night.
Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on FOX Sports Ohio
After opening 8-3 within its own division, Pittsburgh (17-15) has lost six of eight and has fallen a full eight games back of the first-place Chicago Cubs. The 98-win Pirates finished 34-42 against the Central last season, finishing behind St. Louis before falling to the Cubs in the wild-card game.
So far this season, Pittsburgh has had a tough time handling Cincinnati (14-19), falling to 3-4 with Monday's 3-2 loss. They finish this set Wednesday night before playing three at Wrigley Field this weekend, closing a 15-game run against the Central that the Pirates are 4-6 on.
Juan Nicasio (3-3, 3.16 ERA) shut out the Reds over seven innings of a 4-1 win on April 29 but lasted only 4 1/3 in Wednesday's 6-2 loss to Chicago, walking three and allowing eight hits and four runs, one earned.
''They have a good-hitting team and when I got to two strikes and threw my breaking ball they wouldn't swing at it,'' Nicasio said. ''Sometimes you don't have a good day.''
The right-hander hopes to return to the form he showed against Cincinnati when he held the Reds to three hits while walking one and striking out eight, moving his scoreless-inning streak against them to 12 innings.
However, his four appearances prior to that came in relief. As a starter against Cincinnati, Nicasio is 1-2 with a 4.24 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in four meetings.
Brandon Phillips is the only current Cincinnati hitter with extended experience against Nicasio, going 5 for 11 with a homer, triple and double.
Nicasio is searching for his first win away from home. He is 0-2 on the road with a 6.75 ERA, compared to 3-1 with a 1.93 ERA at home.
Alfredo Simon (1-3, 9.86) only had an ERA of 4.00 in two April starts against Pittsburgh, far better than the 13.50 mark he had overall in the season's first month. But he got off to a good start in May with Thursday's 9-5 win over Milwaukee, holding the Brewers to seven hits and three runs in 7 2/3 innings.
"April was tough. When I came from the Dominican, my arm was not really in shape to throw a lot of pitches," Simon, who signed March 17 and missed one April start because of right biceps tendinitis, told MLB's official website. "But now I feel comfortable. I had the tendinitis and my arm is feeling a lot better right now."
Simon's effort extended Cincinnati's season-high streak of quality starts to five. After Tim Adleman, Brandon Finnegan and John Lamb failed to reach the sixth inning, Dan Straily started a new streak with six sharp frames on Monday.
The bullpen's streak of 23 straight games surrendering a run finally ended with four shutout innings in Friday's 5-1 win over Milwaukee. After giving up 11 runs over the next two games, baseball's worst bullpen held the Pirates to one hit in three innings in the opener.