Colin Moran’s homers lift Reds to win over Pirates, first series victory of season
CINCINNATI (Cincinnati Enquirer) - Colin Moran doesn’t typically show a lot of emotion during games, but there was a lot riding on his swing in the sixth inning Sunday.
Moran, facing his former team, shouted in frustration when he was robbed of a home run in the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader. Now he was at the plate with a chance to play hero, trailing by a run with the bases loaded.
Once Moran connected on a 92-mph fastball from Pittsburgh Pirates reliever Heath Hembree, Moran watched the ball sail into the seats and flipped his bat after his first homer in a Reds uniform. He added another two-run homer in the eighth inning, lifting the Reds to a 7-3 win at Great American Ball Park for their first series victory of the season.
“It feels good any time you hit a grand slam,” Moran said, “but yeah, that one felt good.”
It’s been a miserable start to the season for the Cincinnati Reds, one of four Major League teams to lose 23 of their first 27 games since 1901, but a series against the Pirates gave them a chance to lift their spirits.
The Reds and Pirates are expected to battle for the cellar in the National League Central and the sixth inning was an example of what ails the rebuilding Pirates. The first four Reds hitters reached base against lefty reliever Dillon Peters through a single and three walks, which included a four-pitch walk to Tommy Pham with the bases loaded.
Hembree, who recorded eight saves with the Reds last year, entered with a one-run lead in a bases-loaded, no-out jam. The lead didn’t last long. Moran sent the crowd of 17,623 into a frenzy with the fifth grand slam of his career. Hembree didn’t hide his frustration at the end of the inning, throwing his glove toward the bench when he walked down the dugout stairs.
“(Moran) definitely hurt us a lot on the other side,” Reds Manager David Bell said. “We’re happy to have him on our team. He’s continued to do the same thing for us in a little bit more challenging role, really, just trying to stay ready.”
Pittsburgh was the first team the Reds faced this season with a losing record, which was one of the many reasons the Reds were off to the worst start in franchise history. The Reds nearly doubled their season’s win total in the three-game series.
The Reds used nearly all their relievers during Saturday’s doubleheader, so Hunter Strickland was set to pitch with a two-run lead in a save situation. It was no longer a save situation when Moran blasted a two-run homer to center field in the eighth inning. It was the third multi-homer game of Moran’s career and he set a career-high with six RBI.
“I give the credit to the hitting coaches,” Moran said. “I’ve worn out their arms and their time, so I appreciate all the time and effort they put in because when you’re not playing every day, sometimes you try to work through some things and I appreciate all the help they’ve given me.”
Moran credited teammate Albert Almora Jr. for helping him with his swing Sunday when they were watching iPad video in the dugout between innings. It was something simple, Moran was pulling off the ball, but Moran appreciated his teammate’s advice.
“This can be where it starts,” Bell said. “Guys continue to keep playing. It was just a great series.”
Tyler Mahle gave the Reds one of their best starts of the season, permitting one hit and three walks across five innings. The issue was he needed 106 pitches to record his 15 outs. He struck out six, relying more on his fastball after he’s struggled with consistency throughout the past month.
It was Mahle’s best statistical outing since Opening Day, but there was nothing easy. Even the at-bats in 1-2-3 innings were a grind. His pitch count by inning: 22, 26, 20, 21 and 17.
The Pirates took a 2-0 lead in the second inning when Michael Perez ended a nine-pitch at-bat with a 396-foot blast to right-center. Mahle threw him six consecutive fastballs, the last one finally dipping below the top of the strike zone.
“In that at-bat I gave up the homer in Milwaukee, I went splitter, slider, slider,” Mahle said. “I didn’t want that to happen again today. ... I didn’t want to get hurt on my third-best pitch.”
The Reds were shut down for five innings against Pirates starter Zach Thompson, limited to two hits. Then Moran gave the Reds two big hits for their first series win of the season.
Next up is a three-game series against the Milwaukee Brewers, a team that outscored the Reds 34-12 during a three-game sweep last week. Luis Castillo will return from the 10-day Injured List to make his season debut Monday.
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