CINCINNATI — Chad Kuhl squatted at the base of the pitching mound Wednesday afternoon, hat off, hands on his head, clearly shaken and concerned for Jonathan India after the Reds second baseman absorbed a fastball to the helmet.
Thankfully, India turned out to be OK. He took a couple extra seconds, gathered himself and slowly made his way to first base. The Pirates, on the other hand, absorbed blow after blow here — some of them self-inflicted — and will have to dust themselves off after a lopsided series loss.
Wednesday’s 11-4 shellacking in a matinee at Great American Ball Park completed a three-game set where Cincinnati outscored the Pirates, 30-8, and hit eight home runs. Pittsburgh has now lost five in a row following its opening day win in Chicago.
The Reds got off to another hot start and led, 5-0, after the first, capitalizing on another Tyler Naquin leadoff homer — his second in as many games — and Kuhl’s lack of control. In a way, the first inning encapsulated the Pirates’ many shortcomings thus far.
- Naquin’s homer followed a seven-RBI game for the Reds left fielder on Tuesday. It came on the first pitch of the game, a 94-mph sinker at the bottom of the zone. The location wasn’t awful, but it was also the sixth home run allowed by a Pirates starting pitcher in 23 innings this season.
For Kuhl, it was the eighth he’s given up in four career starts at Great American Ball Park.
- Pirates pitchers are issuing far too many walks, and Kuhl hurt the cause by issuing three consecutive free passes in the first. The last of those, to center fielder Nick Senzel, forced in a run.
Overall, Kuhl had five walks, as his command issues from the season opener continued, specifically when it came to the harder stuff. Just 10 of his 26 first-inning pitches landed for strikes. Overall, that stat for Kuhl was 33 of 72.
The bad news for the Pirates is that Kuhl is hardly alone. The entire rotation has struggled thus far, pitching to a 7.43 ERA and walking 18.
— Pittsburgh committed yet another error in the first, a wild throw from Wilmer Difo (three hits) at third that qualified as the Pirates’ seventh of the season. That’s tied for the MLB lead.
Offensive futility has been one of several (ugly) themes for the Pirates this season, and their struggles were glaringly obvious with manager Derek Shelton’s starting lineup, which featured five players hitting a combined .091 (4 for 44).
Difo, Erik Gonzalez, Gregory Polanco, Dustin Fowler and Michael Perez had also combined for 17 strikeouts in 47 plate appearances, a rate of around 36 percent.
The stunning visual from that bunch came in the second inning, when Polanco swung out of his shoes on a two-strike change-up from Reds starter Luis Castillo.
So much for shortening up. Polanco looked like he was trying to hit it to the moon.
There were plenty of other misfires by the Pirates, too. Kuhl couldn’t execute a sacrifice bunt in the third. In the fourth, while facing the opposing pitcher, Kuhl was ahead 1-2 before missing with three consecutive sliders, walking a guy in Castillo who entered the game as a career .093 hitter.
Third-base coach Joey Cora made a mistake when he waved Difo home following a double from Phillip Evans in the fourth inning. The Pirates were down five runs at the time, meaning an out was infinitely more important than only trailing by four.
Cincinnati’s home run parade continued in the fifth inning. Right fielder Nick Castellanos greeted Chris Stratton with another home run, this time riding a high-and-outside fastball the other way to right.
Stratton allowed a single to Reds first baseman Joey Votto and a double to Senzel before India’s single to left scored two more. Tyler Stephenson and Aristides Aquino added back-to-back homers in the eighth off David Bednar.
The one bit of positive news for the Pirates came in the top of the ninth inning, when they loaded the bases with nobody out, and Erik Gonzalez hit his first career grand slam.