Reds hit 4 solo homers, defeat Pirates, 4-1
CINCINNATI — Great American Ball Park is not a favorable venue for any pitcher. And it is a particularly unwelcoming expanse for a weakened staff like the Pirates', who began a four-game series with the Reds on Monday without 80 percent of their Opening Day starting rotation.
The vast PNC Park outfield absorbs mistakes. The Pirates' home is the most difficult place to homer in this season, according to ESPN's Park Factors.
The Reds' cramped home is the fifth-easiest place to homer, and it was the home run — four Cincinnati solo shots — that was pivotal in the Reds' 4-1 series-opening victory. The Reds are 1½ games ahead of the Pirates for second place in the NL Central.
Pirates starter Francisco Liriano entered having not allowed a home run this season, a stretch covering seven starts and 42 innings. His run of flyballs-staying-in-the-park perfection came to an end on the north bank of the Ohio.
Liriano allowed a fourth-inning solo home run to Zack Cozart, who smashed a hanging slider over the left-field wall. In the sixth inning, Liriano left a 92 mph fastball in the middle of the plate, and Todd Frazier homered to left.
“The one slider just kind of hung over the plate. The pitch Frazier hit was intended to be a two-seamer going down and away, but it cut back over the plate,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “If you make mistakes up in the zone here, balls that might not be out in other ballparks are out — they are in the seats.”
Of course, Liriano's two mistakes Monday would have left PNC Park, too. Both home runs reached the second deck. Frazier's shot traveling 443 feet, Cozart's 437 feet.
Other than the home runs, Liriano (5-3) was solid, giving the pitching-depleted Pirates just what they needed: a quality start.
The 29-year-old allowed just three other hits over six innings. He walked two and struck out six. He's struck out 55 in 48 innings this season. His 10.3 strikeouts-per-nine innings rate is nearly equal to that of his breakout 2006 season (10.7), when he was one of the most electric lefties in the game before he underwent Tommy John surgery.
Liriano's slider was sharp at times, and he also mixed in a changeup and an 89-93 mph fastball.
“I got better throwing my fastball for strikes,” said Liriano, who threw 55 of his 84 pitches for strikes. “I made two mistakes.”
Not only are the dimensions cramped at the Reds' home, but there are strong jet streams in the park to right- and left-center field.
Joey Votto found the left-field jet stream in the eighth against Bryan Morris, lining a ball just over the wall to give the Reds a 3-1 lead.
After Brandon Phillips grounded out to third, Jay Bruce hit an opposite-field home run to left center.
Reds starter Mike Leake allowed one run and six hits over seven innings, the lone damage Russell Martin's RBI double in the sixth.
“He keeps the ball out of the middle of the plate,” Hurdle said of Leake. “He changes speeds. … He controls the barrel.”
The Pirates' task does not get any easier the rest of the series. They face Reds ace Mat Latos on Tuesday and finish with Homer Bailey on Thursday. Bailey has pitched like an ace for much of the season and no-hit the Pirates at PNC Park in September.
Charlie Morton will match up with Latos. Brandon Cumpton meets Bailey.