Bats quieted in series finale vs. Reds

July 31st, 2019

CINCINNATI -- A month that began with so much promise for the Pirates ended with another disappointing loss on Wednesday afternoon at Great American Ball Park.

A day after Pittsburgh snapped its nine-game losing streak with a well-played, tensely fought win, starter gave up two early homers and Luis Castillo silenced the Bucs’ bats in a 4-1 loss to the Reds.

The Pirates finished July with an 8-18 record despite winning five of their first seven games to pull within a game of .500 and 2 1/2 games of the National League Central lead. Since that stretch leading up to the All-Star break, they have lost 16 of 19 games, sunk into last place in the division and fallen below everyone but the Marlins in the NL standings.

As a result, the Pirates shipped left fielder Corey Dickerson to the Phillies before Wednesday’s Trade Deadline and fielded more questions afterward about why they didn’t trade away to rebuild.

“Every single game, we’re still going to go out there and fight,” general manager Neal Huntington said. “We’re still in it this year, technically speaking, and we’re going to fight even the day they tell us we’re out of it.”

The Pirates are all but officially out of it, however, after losing their sixth straight series. Their two losses in Cincinnati reflected a trend during that skid. When they hit fairly well on Monday, they gave up 11 runs. When they pitched well enough on Wednesday, they couldn’t touch Castillo.

The Reds homered to left off Agrazal twice in the first three innings. Jesse Winker clubbed Agrazal’s first pitch over the left-field wall, and Eugenio Suarez barely cleared the fence when he lined an 0-2 sinker off Agrazal in the third inning.

“They went in there swinging. They connected with some really good pitches that I threw,” Agrazal said through interpreter Mike Gonzalez. “They went in there with their game plan of going in there and hacking. I went in there with my mentality to continue attacking and competing, and unfortunately it didn’t work out my way.”

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle pulled Agrazal after he plunked two of the last three batters he faced in the fourth inning -- Tucker Barnhart on the foot with a 1-0 slider and Winker on the arm with an 0-2 fastball. To his credit, Agrazal wasn’t afraid to pitch inside -- even after the Reds were highly critical of the Bucs’ resulting tendency to hit batters heading into Wednesday’s series finale.

“That’s part of the game plan. That’s part of my mentality and my approach and my attack,” Agrazal said. “Unfortunately, I hit two batters and it didn’t work out for me in that situation. But that’s the game plan, and I’m not going to change that.”

While the Reds’ home crowd booed, likely remembering the events of Tuesday’s benches-clearing brawl, Hurdle summoned right-hander Michael Feliz from the bullpen. Feliz retired Joey Votto with the bases loaded to end the inning.

“My decision comes down to, ‘Do you think [Agrazal] can get Votto out a third time? Or if Votto throws a ball in the gap, where’s this game going?’” Hurdle said. “I felt a fresh look with a different arm on Votto was our best option.”

Castillo was clearly the Reds’ best option on Wednesday. The right-hander carved up the Pirates lineup as he allowed six hits -- only one for extra bases, a Jose Osuna double on his final pitch -- and struck out seven over seven innings. Castillo owns a 2.63 ERA that ranks fourth among qualified NL starters.

Pittsburgh only managed to get one runner to second base before the eighth inning, when Elias Diaz singled, moved to third on Osuna’s double and scored the Bucs’ only run on Bryan Reynolds’ groundout.

“That kid, that’s some kind of pitcher right now. He’s right up there with the top in the league,” Hurdle said of Castillo. “We had some guys grind some things out, but there wasn’t a lot of hard contact against him.”