CINCINNATI -- The Pirates have a nemesis, and his name is Derek Dietrich.
During the Reds’ 11-6 victory on Tuesday at Great American Ball Park, Dietrich had a career night with three home runs and six RBIs. It gave him seven homers in 2019 against Pittsburgh. Like the way Milwaukee’s Eric Thames burned Cincinnati for 14 homers over the 2017-18 seasons, does Dietrich have a good feel for Bucs pitching?
“Other than they probably don’t really like me, no,” Dietrich said. “I don’t treat it any differently, honestly. It just so happens that I’m kind of hot right now. I didn’t go up there with any extra expectations or anything like that.”
• Box score
Signed to a Minor League deal on Feb. 19, after Spring Training opened, as a free agent languishing on the market, Dietrich already has a career-high 17 home runs in 52 games and 118 at-bats. In 2018 for the Marlins, he hit 16 homers over 149 games and 499 at-bats. Each of his past six hits has been a home run.
According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Dietrich is the third player this season to have six straight hits go for home runs, joining Jay Bruce of the Mariners (March 31 to June 9) and Gary Sanchez of the Yankees (March 31 to June 7). Speaking of Bruce, Dietrich is the first Cincinnati player to have such a streak since Bruce -- then of the Reds -- had seven straight hits go for home runs six years ago (June 16-22, 2013). The most recent streak of seven or longer is Oakland's Matt Olson, who had a run of seven from Sept. 13-22, 2017.
Statcast shows that Dietrich has far exceeded his previous barrel percentages with 17.2 this season; his previous high was 9.0 percent in 2015. He also has increased his launch angle from 15.5 degrees last season to 20.2. But he attributes his success to the teammates and people around him.
“[It's about] how comfortable I feel here," Dietrich said, "and how the Reds just let me be myself and do what I’ve always known I’m capable of doing from day one when I stepped into the big leagues. They believe in me and have given me an opportunity. Really, I think that’s all I really needed along the way.”
Cincinnati had a 1-0 lead on Pittsburgh starter Jordan Lyles in the fourth inning when Dietrich lifted a 1-0 pitch into the right-field seats for his first homer of the night, which he eyed from the batter’s box as it cleared the fence. During a five-run rally in the fifth that put the game away against reliever Geoff Hartlieb, Dietrich went deep again with a two-out drive to right field that made it a six-run game. That time, he did not marvel at his handiwork.
In the seventh against Hartlieb again, Dietrich jumped on a 2-1 pitch and lined it into the first few rows of right-field seats. He turned to the home dugout and shrugged his shoulders on his way to first base.
“It was more like, ‘I don’t know, I’m just hitting every ball out right now. Sorry, not sorry,’ like that hashtag,” Dietrich said.
The moment brought the crowd of 13,824 fans to loudly demand a curtain call, which Dietrich obliged with a raised helmet and a bow. The six RBIs also tied a career high he set on May 3, vs. the Giants.
“I’ve never felt that except for the home opener,” said Dietrich, who went deep vs. the Pirates on March 28. “That’s what baseball is all about. It doesn’t matter how many fans are in the seats, I’ve never experienced that on my behalf, and only once in Miami. That’s a cool feeling.”
On Monday during the eighth inning of an 8-1 win in Game 2 of a doubleheader, Dietrich crushed a mammoth homer to the upper reaches of the right-field seats and admired the drive for a long time. It mimicked another long look from the batter’s box he did on April 7 at PNC Park against Chris Archer, who enthusiastically celebrated a strikeout vs. Dietrich the previous season. Archer threw behind Dietrich the next at-bat, sparking a benches-clearing incident that got Archer suspended for five games.
“He's hitting our mistakes extremely well,” Bucs manager Clint Hurdle said. “We pregame plan. These balls are not where we want them, and he's clobbered them.”
Dietrich, who is making $2 million this season, started at first base the past two games for an injured Joey Votto. More often, the versatile player has been at second base, which he took over from Jose Peraza.
If Dietrich keeps hitting, manager David Bell will keep finding spots for him to play.
“He’s locked in,” Bell said. “He’s been swinging the bat. But it’s a solid approach. It’s more than a streak at this point. He knows who he is as a hitter. He’s hitting for power, but he has a really good approach at the plate. We feel like it’s something that can keep going.”
Dietrich did not get a chance to try for four home runs in the game, which has been done only 18 times in Major League history. Scooter Gennett is the lone Reds player to achieve the feat, doing it against the Cardinals on June 6, 2017.
“Anybody can hit three, Derek,” the injured Gennett said as reporters gathered around Dietrich’s locker.
Replied Dietrich: “Scooter would’ve paid to turn the lights off if it was coming back around.”
Sims steps in, steps up
Dietrich wasn’t the only Red to get a big ovation Tuesday. Called up from Triple-A Louisville as a needed sixth starter following the doubleheader, Lucas Sims delivered career bests of 7 1/3 innings and nine strikeouts. He allowed four earned runs, six hits and one walk.
“I just want to show that I belong,” Sims said. “I want to go out there and control what I can control, and that's go out there and compete and throw aggressive pitches. I definitely feel like I belong. But at the end of the day, it was a good team win, and I figure the rest kind of just takes care of itself.”
Sims took a shutout into the eighth inning when his 100th and final pitch of the night was slugged for a grand slam to right-center field by Kevin Newman.
“He went into the eighth inning, which says so much. I wish I would have gotten him out of there before it happened,” Bell said. “He gave everything he had. It doesn’t take anything away from what he did. But it would have been nice to have the numbers say exactly what he did. He deserved a zero right there.”
As he walked back to the dugout, Sims was given a standing ovation.
“That was cool,” Sims said. “I've got to say it's probably the first time it's happened in my big league career. I'm a little disappointed I couldn't finish it, but with the situation we had all those runs, it was good to go out there and try to save some of those bullpen arms.”
In their 55th game, it marked the first time that Cincinnati had gone to someone outside of its five-man rotation to start. Sims provided the Reds' longest outing of 2019.
Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook.