Leadoff batter Kevin Newman sparks Pirates in sweep of Reds
Knowing what preceded the Pittsburgh Pirates’ 9-8 victory Sunday against the Cincinnati Reds, Clint Hurdle couldn’t help but smile and poke a little fun at himself.
After all, the Pirates manager made the call to insert Kevin Newman atop the batting order, and the rookie shortstop responded by reaching base five times, recording four hits in four at-bats, scoring three runs and stealing two bases.
“Every once in a while, I do something that works out pretty well,” said Hurdle, who won his 721st game in nine seasons as the Pirates’ manager.
After a long search, the Pirates have found the sweet spot in their schedule (playing the Reds at home). The victory in front of a crowd of 22,349 was the 17th in the past 19 games against the Reds at PNC Park.
They swept a three-game series for the first time since June 21-23 against the San Diego Padres. It also was their first three-game winning streak since July 1-3 against the Chicago Cubs.
Not that the sweep matters much in the National League Central standings. The last-place Pirates (55-75) are 5½ games behind the Reds (60-69), who are in fourth.
“We’ve been looking for momentum since the second half of the season, and it’s been hard to get,” Hurdle said. “We got some this series. We connected the dots much better. We pitched it better. We caught it better. We hit it better.
“Nothing breeds confidence like success. You can talk to people. You can encourage them. You can video. You can do all those things. But, at the end of the day, when guys go out and get hits, score runs, pitchers get outs, guys get wins and saves and all that, that’s where you get your momentum and traction.”
Newman ignited a spark in the Pirates’ lineup, helping the team record double-digit hits in consecutive games (10 and 12).
He batted leadoff for the 46th time this season, compared to 75 for Adam Frazier. Newman is hitting .325 with six stolen bases when he bats leadoff, Frazier only .263 with three steals.
“Sometimes, the change of scenery (helps),” Hurdle said.
Newman is not lobbying either way. But when he was asked if he could steal 20-25 bases (he has 13 now) if he batted leadoff consistently, he said, “I think I have that in me.”
“We’ll see how it goes from here. I like to run. They put some trust in me, letting me go.”
Bryan Reynolds added two hits, including a bases-loaded triple in the second inning, and Elias Diaz, who had been struggling at the plate, was 2 for 4.
Hurdle indicated his players finally were getting good wood on pitches after a long string of games when they left runners stranded on base.
“For me, we get pitches to hit and we don’t hit them. We foul them off,” he said. “Not many games go by as a hitter when you don’t have at least one pitch to hit in the at-bat. When you’re going good, you seem to (barrel it up). When you’re not, you foul it off. You’re underneath counts and maybe you get a little antsy. Then, you get outside your zone and chase (bad pitches).”
This time, the Pirates needed every run. In fact, as closer Felipe Vazquez was earning his 23rd save by getting the last four outs, he was working under the mistaken impression he had failed to hold the lead.
When Eugenio Suarez led off the ninth with his 35th home run, Vazquez thought that tied the score. But Vazquez failed to take note of Starling Marte’s RBI double in the bottom of the eighth that put the Pirates up, 9-7.
“I got mad and focused a little bit more,” he said. “When I got two outs, I looked at the scoreboard and saw I was still up.”
Buoyed by the good news, he struck out Jose Peraza to end the game and make a winner of starter Dario Agrazal (3-3).
Agrazal threw 100 pitches, allowed base runners in all five of his innings and gave up seven hits and four runs, but he got important outs when he needed them. He is back in the rotation while Chris Archer deals with shoulder inflammation.
“Being able to be in that rotation, gaining more experience, more opportunities, just more reps,” he said, “I definitely feel I can grow from there.”
Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .