CINCINNATI — The Pirates were not sharp on the mound Sunday — nor at the plate — and enter the All-Star break after a 6-3 loss to division rival Cincinnati.
The loss wrapped up a 2-5 road trip, which was played exclusively against National League Central Division opponents St. Louis and Cincinnati.
“The record isn’t what you want on the road, but we’ve been in every game. … We’ve had to battle,” manager Clint Hurdle said. “I think the break comes at a real good time to catch our breath and get ready for what’s coming in the second half.”
The Reds scored three runs off starter Francisco Liriano, whose pitch count ballooned to 94 in just four innings of work in his first game back off the disabled list.
The Reds scored another run off reliever Stolmy Pimentel and two on a two-run home run off Vance Worley on their way to the series win at Great American Ball Park.
The Pirates plated runs in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings off Reds ace Johnny Cueto, but never mounted a real sustained threat.
Cueto went six innings, allowing five hits and three earned runs with two walks and seven strikeouts. He returned after a 56-minute rain delay and threw 112 total pitches.
“It felt like he threw some pitches over the plate, but he’s one of those guys if you don’t capitalize on it, he makes few mistakes,” shortstop Jordy Mercer said. “We had him on the ropes a few times, but just could never get that big hit.”
Andrew McCutchen tripled to right field in the fourth and scored on a groundout. Josh Harrison drove in Pedro Alvarez with a fifth-inning single after the rain delay that cut the deficit to 3-2. After another Reds run, Neil Walker homered in the sixth to cut it to 4-3.
The Pirates’ best chance to knock around Cueto came immediately after Walker’s home run when Russell Martin reached second on an error. But Martin was thrown out as he tried to steal third with Ike Davis at the plate. It was unclear if he was trying to steal or if he missed a sign.
“That one’s on me for not giving him the ‘don’t run,’ ” Hurdle said. “Russell has the freedom to make plays behind the plate, on the bases. We probably pushed the envelope too far there and when those things happen, it’s the manager’s responsibility.”
Alvarez kept the inning alive when he singled with two outs, then Mercer reached on an error, but Gaby Sanchez popped up to left to end the threat.
Liriano put the Reds down in order in the first before a double by Heisey in the second and four-pitch walk to Devin Mesoraco put runners on the corners.
Liriano quickly paid.
Kristopher Negron hit his first career home run on a changeup to make it 3-0 Reds.
“A little too excited to go out there and pitch, with the adrenaline and everything,” Liriano said. “Tried to do too much. Will just learn from my mistakes and move forward.”
Liriano got himself into more trouble that inning, loading the bases after walking Cueto, giving up a double to Billy Hamilton, then a single to Zack Cozart. He got Frazier to pop out to end the inning.
Liriano loaded the bases again in the fourth with a wild-pitch third strike to Cueto, followed by a couple of walks to Hamilton and Cozart. But he got out of the jam with a nine-pitch strikeout of Frazier, followed by another strikeout of Heisey.
“You’ve got to get him back in a big-league game to find out. A [Class AAA] game isn’t always the thermometer you’re looking for,” Hurdle said. “[It was] one bad strike, in reality. He was rusty, the command will improve as he continues to pitch. But there also was some swing-and-miss stuff. He got out of a few situations, which he’s done in the past.
“He’s going to work and he’s going to battle. He just got back out there. It was one badly located strike in the strike zone that got the three runs on him.”
Pimentel took over in the fifth and gave up a run on two walks and a double, and the Pirates trailed, 4-2, after five innings.
Devin Mesoraco doubled in Heisey, then moved to third on a sacrifice fly but was tagged out by Martin on a squeeze attempt later in the inning.
Worley gave up a two-run home run to Frazier as the Reds took a 6-3 lead in the sixth that stuck.
The ball stayed just inside the right-field foul pole.
Jenn Menendez firstname.lastname@example.org and Twitter @JennMenendez First Published July 13, 2014 12:00 AM