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Biertempfel: Pirates, Reds will be frequent combatants

| Saturday, April 13, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review
Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco tags out the Pirates' Starling Marte at home plate during the first inning Friday, April 12, 2013, at PNC Park.

Even in an era when players frequently hop from team to team, rivalries still exist in baseball.

This weekend, the Pirates got their first look this year at the Cincinnati Reds. There's plenty more to come — the teams will face each other 19 times, the most they've squared off in a season since 2004.

“Any time you play a team 16 to 20 times a year, that hatred ... let's say, that fire is always going to be there,” Pirates second baseman Neil Walker said. “I think that's true for us and the Reds. They're in our division in Triple-A, they're in our division in the big leagues. So, we know a lot of those guys. Not that we dislike them, but when you see guys so many times, you're kind of like, ‘Ugh, I'd rather see somebody else.' ”

In this case, however, it's not just familiarity that breeds contempt.

The Reds and Pirates tussled much of last season for the NL Central lead. The battle included plenty of physical and psychological warfare.

On Aug. 3, closer Aroldis Chapman put an exclamation point on the Reds' 3-0 victory by nailing Andrew McCutchen on the arm with a 100 mph fastball. Both benches tensed, expecting something to follow, but only angry words were exchanged.

The Pirates didn't retaliate over the next two games of the series. In fact, no Reds were nicked in the set, but the Pirates' had three more players — Josh Harrison, Starling Marte and Rod Barajas — hit by pitches before that weekend was over.

A month later, a Pirates pitcher did plunk a Red. After reliever Jared Hughes hit Brandon Phillips with a pitch, the two jawed at each other. In the wee hours of the morning after the game, Phillips used Twitter to accuse Hughes of making a racist remark.

Hughes defused the situation by making a firm denial and adding that he's always liked and respected Phillips. Two days later, Hughes faced Phillips again and gave up a single during a scoreless inning.

“I wanted to get back out there,” Hughes said. “You've got to separate off-the-field and on-the-field things, and I really considered that to be an off-the-field issue. I wanted to leave it there and get back to focusing on the game.”

The Pirates went 7-11 last year against the Reds, and they were no-hit by Homer Bailey on Sept. 28. Over the past decade, the Pirates have finished with a winning record against Cincinnati just three times.

“It'd be safe to say, the way last year went, we definitely look forward to playing the Reds,” shortstop Clint Barmes said. “You don't forget some of the stuff that happened. It plays a part, but it's a clean slate ... for the most part. We'll see how the season unfolds.”

Rob Biertempfel is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at rbiertempfel@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BiertempfelTrib.

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