PITTSBURGH -- As the Pirates and Reds play through the final month of the season at the bottom of the National League Central standings, the clubs hope to see signs of development from their young rotations. Both delivered Sunday afternoon at PNC Park, but Pittsburgh rookie Trevor Williams outdueled Cincinnati's Sal Romano in the Bucs' 3-1 win over the Reds.
Williams worked seven innings as the Reds' dangerous lineup was shut down for the second consecutive game, limited to one run over the past 18 innings. It was not necessarily smooth sailing for Williams as he scattered eight hits, walked a batter and struck out five. He allowed four leadoff hitters to reach safely, and his only 1-2-3 inning was the seventh.
"It sure looked like I like pitching out of the stretch. It looked like I intentionally walked the leadoff hitter," Williams said. "You make your biggest pitches of the game out of the stretch. Those are the pitches that hold the most merit in games."
Reds manager Bryan Price was impressed.
"Just good command," he said of Williams. "He walked one hitter, he was in a lot of good, positive counts and he was able to elevate. He didn't have a ton of strikeouts, but enough, especially when he needed them, and he did it by elevating the fastball."
Williams, who has made 22 starts since moving from the bullpen, has thrown at least seven scoreless innings in three of his last six starts. He set out Sunday to keep the ball down in the zone, use his fastball to all four corners and sweep sliders away from the Reds' right-handed hitters. The plan worked despite the traffic on the bases, but what most impressed manager Clint Hurdle was the right-hander's poise and timing amid it all.
"They've got a lot of guys that can swing it on their team," Williams said. "It could've been a 2-1, 3-1 game with one swing of the bat. Just having no panic and using the sinker at the bottom of the zone."
Right-hander Daniel Hudson pitched a scoreless eighth, and Felipe Rivero escaped a 31-pitch ninth inning to finish up the Bucs' second consecutive series win over the Reds.
Romano held the Pirates to one hit through five innings, but it was a costly one. Pirates shortstop Jordy Mercer ripped a 95.3-mph fastball a Statcast-projected 407 feet to left-center field in the third inning, giving the Bucs an early lead. The Pirates tacked on another run and chased Romano in the sixth, when Max Moroff launched a leadoff double to right and scored on Jordan Luplow's single to left. Romano departed after allowing two runs (one earned) on four hits and four walks over 5 2/3 innings.
The Reds had yet to plate a run when the ninth inning came around, and had two outs against them quickly. A Moroff fielding error allowed Scooter Gennett to score from third to spoil the shutout, though, and Rivero eventually loaded the bases before coaxing Jose Peraza into a groundout to end the threat.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
A personal best: Mercer's homer not only provided all the run support the Pirates would need against the Reds, it set a new single-season mark for Pittsburgh's shortstop. The solo shot to the deepest part of the ballpark was Mercer's 13th home run, a new career high. Mercer went deep 12 times in 149 games in 2014 but topped that in his 129th game this year. He's also on track to top his career-high RBI mark (59, set last season) while having already set a career-high with four triples on the season.
"I'm older, but I feel like I'm getting better," Mercer said. "Just experience. I don't think it's one particular thing. I didn't lift any more or do anything other than I have in previous years. I think it's experience. Getting myself in good situations to hit, knowing what guys are going to do to me."
Star power: Before Josh Harrison sustained a season-ending injury Saturday night, the Pirates swapped Harrison into the leadoff spot and bumped Starling Marte to the No. 2 spot in an attempt to revive a slumping offense. Marte moved back into the leadoff spot Sunday and came through with a big hit, a Statcast-projected 415-foot shot into the bushes beyond the center-field fence in the seventh inning. It was Marte's fifth home run and third in 43 games since the end of his 80-game suspension.
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"You've got to pitch with a sense of urgency. That's what I flourish in, pitching with a sense of urgency like my job depends on it. We have a lot of good guys coming up through the Minors. Do your job, do your job now and do it right. That in the back of my mind helps me pitch and helps me flourish. It's just not letting it snowball. … It works for me. I might be a little weird in the head, but it works for me." -- Williams, on his success in the rotation
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Williams' seven scoreless innings lowered his ERA to 2.95 in 12 day games, and Marte has hit .321 in 19 afternoon starts.
UPON FURTHER REVIEW
Adam Duvall led off the fourth inning with a ground ball to third baseman Sean Rodriguez and was ruled out at first base. The Reds challenged the ruling on the field, which was overturned after an instant replay review. Duvall was ruled safe, but he was left stranded at third base as Williams struck out Scott Schebler to end the inning.
Peraza led off the eighth inning with a ground-ball single to Rodriguez, whose throw forced first baseman Josh Bell to leap off the bag. The Pirates asked for a replay review but lost their challenge when the call was upheld. Peraza was safe but immediately erased on Joey Votto's double-play grounder.
Reds: Cincinnati will return home Monday to take on a Brewers team needing every win it can get to overtake the first-place Cubs. Right-hander Homer Bailey (4-9, 7.51 ERA) is scheduled to take the mound for the Reds against righty Chase Anderson (8-3, 2.96) in the series opener, slated for a 1:10 p.m. ET start.
Pirates: The Pirates will welcome the Cubs to PNC Park on Monday to begin a four-game series, with right-hander Chad Kuhl on the mound for the Bucs. Kuhl allowed three runs on seven hits and struck out seven over 5 1/3 innings in a loss to Jacob Arrieta and the Cubs at Wrigley Field on Tuesday. Arrieta will be on the mound for Monday's rematch, with first pitch scheduled for 7:05 p.m. ET.
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