Pirates score early, hang on to beat Reds
A.J. Burnett needed 10 strikeouts to reach 2,000 in his career going into Friday's series opener against the Cincinnati Reds at PNC Park, but, more than that, he needed some run support.
He got it for the first time this year when the Pirates scored five runs in the first two innings. The right-hander left the game with the lead after six. Reds second baseman Brandon Phillips tied the score with a two-run, two-out home run off lefty Tony Watson in the top of the seventh to take the win away from Burnett. Then, Andrew McCutchen hit a solo shot in the bottom of the inning, and the Pirates held on for a 6-5 victory.
“It shows we're a team that's going to fight,” said McCutchen, who homered to left field on a 1-2 pitch from Elizabeth Forward product J.J. Hoover (0-3). “Just because they tied the game up, just because we had a four-run lead, doesn't mean that we're going to give up. We worked too hard to get those five runs, and I was ready to go. Came up next inning, was able to deliver and the pitching was able to do their job.”
Perhaps no one was happier to see McCutchen's home run than Watson, who ended up with the win (1-0).
“Especially the way A.J. pitched. He pitched well and left with the lead,” Watson said. “You want to come in and lock it down. It's a sick feeling, but luckily Cutch came through for us.”
Mark Melancon pitched a scoreless eighth to give him six scoreless innings this season, and closer Jason Grilli had two men on but struck out Phillips on a 3-2 pitch to end the game and earn his fourth save in four tries.
“Melancon's come out as clean as anybody from the start of the season until now, and Grilli's probably right behind him,” manager Clint Hurdle said.
Burnett threw 106 pitches and gave up three runs on six hits, walked three and struck out eight as the Pirates returned from a six-game trip to Los Angeles and Arizona to a 52-degree temperature at game time. McCutchen was 2 for 4 with three RBI, Starling Marte was 2 for 4, and Neil Walker was 2 for 4 with two RBI and two runs scored.
Phillips also homered off Burnett in the second inning to tie the score, 1-1. It was his 10th career two-home run game. Before that, the Reds hadn't scored in 15 innings and had totaled just one run in their previous two games combined.
Also prior to the first inning Friday, the Pirates had not scored a run with Burnett on the mound at PNC Park in 24 2⁄3 innings dating back to last season. They didn't score for him in either of his previous two starts this year, and Hurdle said before the game that part of the problem is that the Pirates are usually facing the opponent's No. 1 or No. 2 starter when Burnett is on the mound.
Reds right-hander Mike Leake, however, may not have even been in the Reds' rotation had Aroldis Chapman's conversion to a starting role lasted past spring training.
With the game tied, 1-1, Travis Snider kicked off a four-run second inning with a single to short. Leake hit Marte to load the bases with one out — a sacrifice by Burnett — and Walker, who was batting .103 coming into the game, drove in two runs with a single to center field. Marte and Walker both scored on a single to left field by McCutchen.
“It's always good to score some runs and get on the board so (Burnett) can breathe a little bit,” McCutchen said. “He did a good job. We couldn't get him the win, but we'll have another chance.”