Though Ken Griffey Jr. was likely to return to the starting lineup Tuesday anyway, he showed Monday exactly why he belongs in it.
Griffey hopes to follow up his walk-off homer by providing some run support for Edinson Volquez, who looks to recover from his worst start of the season as the Cincinnati Reds continue their series with the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Even though Pittsburgh (38-44) is starting a left-hander for the second straight game, the left handed-hitting Griffey should be back in Cincinnati’s starting lineup after being left on the bench to begin Monday’s series opener. He had been in a 1-for-16 slump since homering Wednesday.
Griffey entered as a defensive replacement in the ninth inning and got to the plate in the bottom half with a runner on second. He came through with his 603rd career home run to give Cincinnati (39-45) its third straight victory, 4-3.
It was the fifth career game-ending home run and 10th overall this season for Griffey, who moved within six of Sammy Sosa for fifth place all-time.
“You try not to do that too many times,” Griffey said. “You’d like to play 8 1/2 and shake hands, but shaking hands at home plate isn’t bad, either.”
Most of Volquez’s outings have ended similarly, but that wasn’t the case Thursday when he gave up seven runs and six hits in 4 1-3 innings of a 7-1 loss at Toronto.
“You knew it was going to happen sooner or later,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said. “He’s been on a tremendous roll.”
Volquez (10-3, 2.08 ERA) allowed no more than two runs in 13 of his first 15 starts—he gave up three in the other two. He remains the NL leader in ERA and strikeouts (110), but failed to strike out a batter Thursday for the first time.
After the road loss, Volquez should be more than happy to be back in Cincinnati, where he is 5-0 with a 1.83 ERA in seven home starts. He allowed three hits in five scoreless innings in a 1-0 loss at Pittsburgh on April 11 in his only career appearance against the Pirates.
Teammate Jerry Hairston Jr. also enjoys playing at Great American Ball Park. The shortstop went 2-for-4 with a homer Monday and is batting .453 in 18 home games, compared to .232 in 26 road games.
Hairston now faces Zach Duke (4-5, 3.99), who is winless in 12 road starts since winning at Cincinnati on May 27, 2007. He has not faced the Reds since that game and won both his starts against them last year despite allowing eight runs and 13 hits in 11 innings.
Duke had won his last two decisions before giving up four runs and seven hits in five innings of a 10-0 loss to the New York Yankees on Wednesday. Still, the left-hander has a 3.11 ERA over his last six starts.
Griffey’s homer Monday came off Pirates closer Matt Capps, who failed to record an out and blew a save for the fourth time in six chances. He is 1-3 with a 5.59 ERA over his last nine appearances, allowing 11 hits—including four homers—in 9 2-3 innings.
“It’s been a rough month,” said Capps, who converted all 15 of his save opportunities before June 10. “I gave up a home run to a Hall of Famer tonight. Tonight’s was probably the easiest one to do. He’s a pretty good hitter.”
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