Entering the bottom of the seventh inning the Pirates trailed the Reds 2-0, but with the 3-4-5 batters due up, a sliver of hope remained.
Two strikeouts and a weak grounder later, the ROOT Sports telecast fixed a camera on Wandy Rodriguez in the dugout before heading to commercial. Rodriguez sat motionless and expressionless, his eyes pointed toward home plate.
The Pirates starter had surrendered just two runs — both line-drive homers — on eight base runners through seven rapid frames. Yet his gaze mirrored a kid daydreaming in math class, staring blankly into vacant space and likely wishing to be anywhere else.
The batter’s box Rodriguez eyed could have very well been vacant the entire game, as Reds’ starter Johnny Cueto yielded one measly single, a walk and a hit-by-pitch — the latter a means of reputation and history than a slip in control — en route to a 6-0 victory.
After plunking Andrew McCutchen on his left triceps in the first inning, Cueto retired the next 12 batters before Brandon Inge flared a pitch into left field. Fortunately, most other batters would have gotten much more of the same pitch but probably not enough to do anything other than fly out. But Inge’s complete lack of power — think .239 SLG-feebleness — allowed him to deposit the ball just before the left fielder.
The inept run support continues, which is generally accepted when the opposing pitchers are Cueto, Justin Verlander and Anibal Sanchez, and the Pirates had absolutely nothing going for them against the Reds.
The silver lining in this game is that the Pirates did not tax their bullpen. Other than Mike Zagurski’s blow up over two 1 2/3 innings on 57 pitches and Bryan Morris’s subsequent brief mop-up duty, the Shark Tank stayed dormant.
And that ‘pen will be needed at full strength for the Pirates to maintain their streak of winning series despite losing the opener.
The first step in doing so comes tomorrow night when the resurgent Francisco Liriano (3-1, 2:35) leads the Bucs against Mike Leake (4-2, 3.02) and the Reds.