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Pirates lose to Reds again, dip near the division basement

Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Pirates catcher Chris Stewart talks with pitcher Brandon Cumpton after the Reds scored two runs during the sixth inning Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Pirates catcher Chris Stewart talks with pitcher Brandon Cumpton after the Reds scored two runs during the sixth inning Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Pirates second baseman Neil Walker scores past Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco during the first inning Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park. It would be the only run of the day for the home team as the Pirates fell 2-1.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Pirates second baseman Neil Walker scores past Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco during the first inning Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park. It would be the only run of the day for the home team as the Pirates fell 2-1.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Pirates second baseman Neil Walker scores past Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco during the first inning Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Pirates second baseman Neil Walker scores past Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco during the first inning Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - The Reds' Ryan Ludwick doubles in front of Pirates catcher Chris Stewart during the sixth inning Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>The Reds' Ryan Ludwick doubles in front of Pirates catcher Chris Stewart during the sixth inning Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez strikes out in front of Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco during the sixth inning Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Pirates third baseman Pedro Alvarez strikes out in front of Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco during the sixth inning Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Pirates left fielder Starling Marte makes a catchto retire the Reds' Devin Mesoraco while stepping over second baseman Neil Walker during the sixth inning Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Pirates left fielder Starling Marte makes a catchto retire the Reds' Devin Mesoraco while stepping over second baseman Neil Walker during the sixth inning Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.
Getty Images - Todd Frazier (#21) and Joey Votto (#19) of the Cincinnati Reds celebrate after scoring on a two-RBI double in the sixth inning against the Pirates at PNC Park April 24, 2014.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Getty Images</em></div>Todd Frazier (#21) and Joey Votto (#19) of the Cincinnati Reds celebrate after scoring on a two-RBI double in the sixth inning against the Pirates at PNC Park April 24, 2014.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer strikes out swinging during the ninth inning against the Reds Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer strikes out swinging during the ninth inning against the Reds Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Reds pitcher Tony Cingrani delivers to the plate during the first inning against the Pirates Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Reds pitcher Tony Cingrani delivers to the plate during the first inning against the Pirates Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - The Pirates' Jose Tabata reacts to an inside pitch in front of Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco during the eighth inning Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>The Pirates' Jose Tabata reacts to an inside pitch in front of Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco during the eighth inning Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Pirates second baseman Neil Walker tags out the Reds' Billy Hamilton on a stolen base attempt during the ninth inning Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Pirates second baseman Neil Walker tags out the Reds' Billy Hamilton on a stolen base attempt during the ninth inning Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Pirates catcher Chris Stewart works behind the plate for the second consecutive game against the Reds Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Pirates catcher Chris Stewart works behind the plate for the second consecutive game against the Reds Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Pirates second baseman Neil Walker connects on a single during the third inning against the Reds Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Pirates second baseman Neil Walker connects on a single during the third inning against the Reds Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Pirates manager Clint Hurdle talks with hom plate umpire Mark Ripperger during a game against the Reds Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Pirates manager Clint Hurdle talks with hom plate umpire Mark Ripperger during a game against the Reds Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Pirates pitcher Brandon Cumpton delivers to the plate during the first inning against the Reds Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park. Cumpton came up from Triple-A Indianapolis and delivered a qualify effort: He allowed two runs, four hits and one walk over seven innings, although he hit three Reds. The Pirates lost 2-1.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Pirates pitcher Brandon Cumpton delivers to the plate during the first inning against the Reds Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park. Cumpton came up from Triple-A Indianapolis and delivered a qualify effort: He allowed two runs, four hits and one walk over seven innings, although he hit three Reds. The Pirates lost 2-1.
Christopher Horner | Tribune-Review - Pirates catcher Chris Stewart talks with pitcher Brandon Cumpton after the Reds scored two runs during the sixth inning Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Christopher Horner  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Pirates catcher Chris Stewart talks with pitcher Brandon Cumpton after the Reds scored two runs during the sixth inning Thursday, April 24, 2014, at PNC Park.

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Cumpton by the numbers

First-pitch strikes: 20 of 28

Outs recorded in three pitches or fewer: 15

Three-ball counts: 4

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Thursday, April 24, 2014, 3:51 p.m.
 

Brandon Cumpton has to pitch inside.

Without margin-for-error stuff like that of teammate Gerrit Cole, Cumpton must command both sides of the plate. Cumpton made few location mistakes Thursday afternoon, but they were few too many as he was backed by a lackluster offensive effort in a 2-1 loss to the Reds.

After winning their first three series of the season, the Pirates have lost 11 of 14 games — all against division foes. The Pirates (9-14) ended play just a half-game ahead of the last-place Chicago Cubs in the National League Central.

Cumpton has to pitch in, but mistakes in are costly.

Cumpton began Thursday with five efficient scoreless innings. He started the sixth by hitting Joey Votto, and with two outs he hit Todd Frazier. Ryan Ludwick followed by smashing a Cumpton slider to the left-center field wall, scoring Votto and Frazier.

“I let a couple pitches get away in the sixth inning,” Cumpton said. “Just being aggressive, going in, and a couple of those were with two strikes. That's going to happen. I pitch in a lot. … (The slider) got a little too much of the plate. (Ludwick) made me pay.”

The effort was enough for Cumpton to earn another start.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Cumpton will make at least one more turn in the rotation, filling in for the injured Wandy Rodriguez (right knee), who threw his first bullpen Thursday since having his knee drained and being placed on the 15-day disabled list earlier in the week.

“I thought the entire start was strong,” Hurdle said. “You can't have it both ways. He's going to go in and go in with conviction.”

While the Pirates have run-production issues, perhaps the primary reason for the club's slow start is its decline in run prevention. After ranking third in the National League in ERA last season (3.27), the Pirates entered the day ranked 11th (3.82).

It was pitching depth that helped the Pirates weather pitching attrition last season, and Cumpton (0-1) came up from Triple-A Indianapolis ready to deliver a quality effort. He allowed two runs, four hits and one walk over seven innings, although he hit three Reds, noteworthy because of the hit-batter wars between the teams in recent seasons.

“(Ludwick's hit) was great because we were starting to get a little irritated because we had three hit batters in the game, and a couple of our guys got squared up pretty good,” Reds manager Bryan Price said. “I don't think there was any intent to it, but the fact his two-run double followed the third hit-by-pitch had a little bit more sweetness to it for sure.”

Primarily known as a groundball pitcher, Cumpton's fastball showed more life than in his three appearances last season. His fastball averaged 91.4 mph last season. His two-seamer was consistently between 92 and 93 mph Thursday.

Jay Bruce swung and missed at a 93 mph fastball for a strikeout in the first, and Zack Cozart swung and missed at a darting 93 mph fastball for a strikeout in the fifth. The pitch helped Cumpton retire 15 batters in three pitches or less. He struck out five in all, three via slider.

The Pirates scored just one run — a Pedro Alvarez RBI single in the first that scored Neil Walker — off hard-throwing Reds lefty Tony Cingrani (2-2).

“We've got a lot of games left,” center fielder Andrew McCutchen said. “I'm not too worried about where we are. I know we are going to get better.”

Travis Sawchik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at tsawchik@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Sawchik_Trib.

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