CINCINNATI -- Corey Dickerson doesn't necessarily consider himself a power hitter, but his numbers the last three games have suggested otherwise. On Saturday, Dickerson belted a pair of solo home runs, and Nick Kingham backed it up with 6 1/3 strong innings to lift the Pirates to a 6-2 win
CINCINNATI -- Corey Dickerson doesn't necessarily consider himself a power hitter, but his numbers the last three games have suggested otherwise. On Saturday, Dickerson belted a pair of solo home runs, and Nick Kingham backed it up with 6 1/3 strong innings to lift the Pirates to a 6-2 win over the Reds at Great American Ball Park. Pittsburgh has won eight in a row and is over .500 for the first time since June 6.
In some ways, Dickerson makes a conscious choice of wanting to hit for contact rather than taking more chances and spiking his strikeout rate. Whatever the approach may be, Dickerson has started the second half of the season on a tear. He has hit three home runs in two nights and has homered in three consecutive games for the second time in his career. The other time he did so was Aug. 10-12, 2016. The two blasts on Saturday brought his season total to 10 and gave him 100 homers in his career.
"I kind of pick my spots," Dickerson said. "I decide when I want to hit for power. I know I have a lot of power from batting practice and stuff like that, but if I am struggling or my timing isn't quite there, I would rather hit for average and get my hits."
That's how the first half of the season played out for the veteran. Dickerson had seven home runs in the first 96 games and now has four in the last three games alone.
"I took the All-Star break to reassess and try to drive the ball a little more, and it is working," Dickerson said. "It is [depending] on my approach. My approach changes every day."
Dickerson hammered a first-pitch hanging breaking ball over the center-field wall to open the scoring in the third inning off Reds starter Anthony DeSclafani and then tagged him again in the fifth by turning on a first-pitch fastball on the inner half into the Cincinnati bullpen to give the Pirates a 3-0 lead. DeSclafani was pulled from the game a batter later.
Dickerson is one of the more meticulous hitters in baseball, constantly adjusting his grip -- whether it is choking up on the bat, shifting towards the knob or changing his overall approach.
"If you don't watch him every pitch, you are going to miss something," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "There are times where he will go two inches up, then he will go four inches up and then on the knob. It is really a feel thing for him."
Perhaps the biggest obstacle Kingham navigated around through the first six innings was a 47-minute rain delay that began as he prepared to jog out to the mound for the bottom of the fourth inning. The right-hander walked the first two batters of the game to put himself in an early pinch. He fell behind 2-0 to Joey Votto, but was able to induce a double-play ball and got Eugenio Suarez to fly out to center to escape the jam. Kingham retired 17 of the 19 hitters he faced after the back-to-back walks. He retired 14 batters on three pitches or less and was pulled after an efficient 79 pitches due to the delay and the humid weather.
"Pound the zone," Kingham said of his key to success. "I like to throw strikes. I think everyone knows that. They know it is coming so they are trying to jump on it. They're trying to hit it and take advantage of me leaving a fat one over the plate. I think that worked against them today."
The rookie worked a good number of favorable counts, which allowed him to keep a lineup that boasts three All-Stars in the two through four slots off balance.
"He threw a lot of first-pitch strikes, and his secondary pitches were so effective," Hurdle said. "The mix of the breaking balls and changeups. Let the fastball play up. He got swing-and-misses and some soft contact."
Kingham ran into trouble in the seventh inning after Jesse Winker led off with his second base hit of the game. Two batters later, Curt Casali worked a seven-pitch at-bat and deposited an elevated fastball over the left-field wall to put Cincinnati on the board and chase Kingham from the game. He struck out three and did not walk another batter after the two to begin the game. Kingham even helped his own cause with a two-run single in the sixth inning.
Kingham is now 5-4 since making his big league debut on April 29 and has gone at least six innings in each of his last three outings. He's gaining confidence with each start.
"It elevates your game," Kingham said. "They get everyone's best. It is like a chess game. Here it is. I am going to throw my best stuff at you."
The Pirates recorded double-digit hits for the second consecutive game and have 28 hits in the first two games of the series. The Pittsburgh bullpen put a lid on the Reds' offense for the final six outs for the club's eighth straight win. It is the Pirates' first eight-game winning streak since 2015.
"Things are contagious," Hurdle said. "These guys are working hard. That is one thing about this club is they'd rather give up a small body part than give up an at-bat."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Kingham helps his own cause: Kingham stepped up to bat with runners on second and third with one out in the sixth inning in what was still a tight game at 3-0. He got ahead 2-0 on Michael Lorenzen, whiffed on a pair of sliders and then was able to poke a fastball up the middle for a two-run single that put the Pirates in full control at 5-0.
"I was just trying to put the ball in play to get at least one," Kingham said. "I knew the infield was in, so I was trying to put the ball in the air, and it just kind of squibbed right through. It worked out."
The Pirates' starting rotation has combined to post a 2.82 ERA with 70 strikeouts and 17 walks in the last 10 games. The club has an overall record of 31-17 when the starter goes six innings.
The Pirates will send Ivan Nova to the mound at Great American Ball Park to close out the series with the Reds at 1:10 p.m. ET on Sunday. The right-hander scattered seven hits and allowed one run in 4 2/3 innings his last time out against the Brewers. Nova struck out three and did not issue a walk. Nova has gone less than six innings in each his last three outings after going at least six in three consecutive starts to end the month of June. He is 5-6 with a 4.38 ERA on the season. Matt Harvey will be on the mound for Cincinnati for the finale.
Brian Scott Rippee is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cincinnati.