CINCINNATI -- The 2018 season has been marred by struggles and frustration for Sean Rodriguez, but he arrived in the Pirates' clubhouse on Friday after being activated from a lengthy rehab stint and spoke optimistically about what he learned in the Minor Leagues that could help turn things around. The
CINCINNATI -- The 2018 season has been marred by struggles and frustration for Sean Rodriguez, but he arrived in the Pirates' clubhouse on Friday after being activated from a lengthy rehab stint and spoke optimistically about what he learned in the Minor Leagues that could help turn things around. The first returns couldn't have been better, as Rodriguez's three-hit, four-RBI night powered the Pirates to a 12-1 win over the Reds at Great American Ball Park after a two-hour, 55-minute rain delay.
"After a couple days down and not seeing live pitching, then sitting as long as we did, it took a bit to kind of get back in rhythm," Rodriguez said. "I was able to battle and give myself a chance."
The win was Pittsburgh's seventh in a row and got it back to .500 (49-49) for the first time since June 18.
Reds third baseman Eugenio Suarez robbed Rodriguez of a hit in his first at-bat when he made a diving stop on a sharply hit ground ball down the line and threw to first to save two runs. But that didn't prevent Rodriguez from opening the scoring with a base hit through the left side in the top of the fourth inning. Pittsburgh starter Jameson Taillon helped his own cause two batters later by dropping down a squeeze bunt to bring in another run and give the Pirates an early 2-0 lead.
Rodriguez came back up to the plate with two on and no one out in the sixth inning. Reds starter Tyler Mahle had navigated around trouble through five innings, but he hung a first-pitch slider over the heart of the plate and Rodriguez sent it 407 feet into the upper deck in left field to blow the game open.
"Any time you hit a ball on the barrel that you know as long as it stays fair it will get out is a great feeling," Rodriguez said.
Corey Dickerson crushed a solo home run three batters later to make it 6-0 and end Mahle's night.
It was the best game of the season for Rodriguez, who had not appeared in a game with the Pirates since June 24. He was placed on the 10-day DL on June 27 with a strained right quadriceps, another setback in what has been a tough season for the veteran utility man. Rodriguez came into the night hitting .145 with three home runs, 13 RBIs and 46 strikeouts in 137 plate appearances.
Rodriguez moved across the diamond during his stints with Triple-A Indianapolis, Class A Advanced Bradenton and Double-A Altoona Curve. Going down to the Minors was a humbling experience for a player with as much service time as Rodriguez, but it allowed him to play every day as he attempts to find some semblance of consistency.
Rodriguez missed a good portion of the 2017 season after an offseason car accident resulted in a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder, labrum damage and a dislocated biceps tendon. Rodriguez said he felt good in Spring Training, but hasn't been able to find consistency in '18. He carries pages of handwritten notes around with him and often reverts back to them as he works through his struggles.
"You have two choices," Rodriguez said before the game. "You can sit there and take the beating and say, 'I am useless.' Or you can claw and scratch and do what it takes to get back to where you can contribute. That has been the mindset since the day I was born."
The 11-year veteran chose to keep fighting, and it paid off for him in the first game. Friday was his first four-RBI game since Aug. 14, 2016, at Dodger Stadium, and his first three-hit game since then, as well. He also had another single, a walk and scored two runs, snapping an 0-for-17 streak that dated back to June 6.
"Strong performance," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "He put the ball in play. He barreled balls up. He walked. He saw a lot of pitches, didn't miss the hanging breaking ball and got a couple of other base hits. I don't think you could've drawn it up any better for him but now he has to keep playing."
Hurdle understands the struggles Rodriguez went through and the humility it takes for a veteran guy to be willing to go to the Minor Leagues for a lengthy rehab stint to try to work out issues, whether they be mechanical or mental.
"I do applaud him for going down and doing it," Hurdle said before the game. "There have been similar guys in similar situations with that much time in the game and that much tenure who wouldn't have done it, wouldn't have put that much time and work in to get those at-bats, making that travel."
Taillon made Rodriguez's production hold up by going 5 1/3 innings, surrendering one run on six hits and one walk with six strikeouts. The right-hander put up five scoreless frames before Cincinnati tagged him for a run in the sixth and ousted him from the game. But the Pittsburgh bullpen put a lid on the Reds' offense for the final 3 2/3 innings.
Starling Marte continued to pour it on Cincinnati in the eighth, belting a grand slam well over the left-field wall for a four-RBI game of his own and went 2-for-5 on the night. Pittsburgh had 16 hits and scored in five of the last six innings of the game. Marte extended his hitting streak to 13 games, tying a career high.
"It just seems like every night someone else is doing it," Taillon said. "We've had good pitching, timely hitting and the bullpen has been pitching well. It just seems like we are getting help from everywhere. We don't have any give in our lineup."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Taillon escapes early jams: Taillon stranded two runners in the second and third innings when the game was still scoreless. He let up back-to-back base hits to Suarez and Jesse Winker to lead off the bottom of the second, but worked out of the jam. The right-hander also stranded a pair of one-out singles from Jose Peraza and Tucker Barnhart in the third. It prevented the Reds from finding any early momentum and set the table for the Pirates' offense to grab control later in the game.
"This is their third time seeing me this year," Taillon said. "I tried to mix it up and threw a bunch of offspeed and thought my mix was pretty good. I threw a lot of two-seamers. I just tried to mix it up and keep them guessing."
Lost in Rodriguez's productive return and Marte's grand slam, Colin Moran went 4-for-5 with two runs scored. It tied his career high -- his other four-hit game also came against the Reds, on April 8.
HE SAID IT
"Sean is a guy everyone is rooting for every time. No one is rooting against him. We want him to go up there and do the job every time. When he wasn't, it wasn't just tough on him it was tough on everyone because we all want him to succeed." -- Taillon, on Rodriguez
Nick Kingham gets the ball for the Pirates in Game Two of this series on Saturday at 7:10 p.m. ET at Great American Ball Park. Kingham has won his last two outings, including going 6 1/3 innings his last time out against the Brewers, in which he surrendered three earned runs on five hits with nine strikeouts and one walk. The rookie is 4-4 with a 4.26 ERA in nine starts since making his Major League debut on April 29. Anthony DeSclafani will be on the mound for the Reds.
Brian Scott Rippee is a reporter for MLB.com based in Cincinnati.