The Cincinnati Reds came into PNC Park knowing they’d struggled all season against the Pittsburgh Pirates, but after scoring 11 runs Friday, they’re feeling a bit more comfortable against their NL Central rivals.
Morton has dominated the Reds in three starts - two complete games - and has been fantastic thus far in August, patterns the Pirates hope to see him continue Saturday afternoon after a high-scoring series opener.
Cincinnati (61-64) entered this three-game set having dropped seven of nine against Pittsburgh (58-65), and it had been held to one run or fewer in four of those losses.
It took until the fourth inning Friday to get on the board, but once the Reds broke through on Joey Votto’s(notes) two-run homer, they didn’t let up. Cincinnati watched a 6-2 lead disappear as the Pirates rallied to tie the score at eight, but three ninth-inning runs off All-Star reliever Joel Hanrahan(notes) allowed it to escape with an 11-8 win.
Repeating that kind of performance at the plate could be much more difficult. Morton (9-6, 3.43 ERA) has twice gone the distance in wins over the Reds at Great American Ball Park, and July 18 he held them to three hits over five innings in a 2-0 victory.
Morton’s reliance on his sinker - his 77.2 ground-ball percentage leads the majors - has led to an up-and-down season, but lately he’s been getting the downward action he’s looking for. The right-hander has held opponents to a .195 average this month and given up just one run over 22 1-3 innings.
That, however, came in the eighth Sunday at Milwaukee, ending his scoreless streak at 24 1-3 innings in a game Pittsburgh went on to lose 2-1 in 10.
No Pirate had a longer streak without allowing a run since Bill Landrum (31 2-3) in 1989.
“The comments some of the hitters are making when they go down to first … (they’re saying) that’s the best sinker in the league,” manager Clint Hurdle told the Pirates’ official website. “Some right-handers say it’s just filthy, and he’s even picked up some momentum the last couple times out against left-handers.”
The left-hander still hasn’t won, but after four straight solid outings from July 24-Aug. 9, the wheels fell off Sunday against San Diego after he felt discomfort in his left forearm warming up. Willis gave up four runs, six hits and two walks while lasting 2 2-3 innings in a 7-3 loss.
An MRI on Monday showed no damage.
“I was just terrible all the way around,” Willis told the Reds’ official website. “I didn’t have any feel, I didn’t have any arm speed, and I didn’t have any command. When you don’t have that it affects everything.”
Willis is 0-4 with a 5.48 ERA in four starts versus Pittsburgh since 2007. Pirates outfielder Matt Diaz(notes), who hasn’t homered in 206 at-bats this season, is 10 for 25 with three homers lifetime versus Willis.