Pirates lose to Reds again, dip near the division basement

Travis Sawchik
| 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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