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Bailey: Pirates have made strides

Pirates hitting coach Jay Bell was charting pitches from the photo well by the dugout when he asked a photographer to protect him if a foul ball came near. His reflexes weren’t so good anymore, he joked.

The presence of Bell in the Pirates dugout is a reminder of how good the franchise was 21 years ago when he was the starting shortstop for a team that won 96 games. That 1992 team was also the last Pittsburgh squad to finish the season with a winning record, a streak this year’s team seems sure to break.

The Pirates improved to 43-30 with a 5-3 victory over the Reds on Thursday afternoon at Great American Ball Park. The Pirates have won six of 10 games against the Reds this season and trail the Reds (44-30) by a half game in the National League Central.

The Pirates were 16 games over .500 on Aug. 1 last season, but they finished 79-83.

“They’ve definitely made strides over the year,” said Reds pitcher Homer Bailey, who gave up two runs in six innings Thursday. “It’s still early. I guess, to be real, they usually fade out at the end of the season. So far they’ve kept up. They’ve played really good baseball.

“Their bullpen has been outstanding, but their bullpen also has a lot of innings. It’s just going to be on them. Do they have a good club? Absolutely. But in the last couple of years, if you follow patterns, they’ve kind of faded out. They’re definitely a good club, but we’re not even halfway through yet.”

Heisey update: Left fielder Chris Heisey went 2-for-3 in his second rehab game with Triple-A Louisville on Wednesday. He’s 4-for-7 in two games.

Baker hopes to have Heisey back for the two games in Oakland next Tuesday and Wednesday. Heisey hasn’t played since April 27 because of a strained right hamstring.

Jersey boy: Reds third baseman Todd Frazier changed his walk-up music Thursday to the Sopranos theme song to honor James Gandolfini, the actor who died Wednesday. Gandolfini, like Frazier, was born in New Jersey and attended Rutgers.

“What an icon,” Frazier wrote on Twitter. “He made the best show, ‘The Sopranos,’ in the world. Rest in peace my friend.”

Full house: The Reds sold out their eighth game of the season Thursday with a crowd of 40,929.

Coming into the game, the Reds ranked 16th out of 30 teams in average attendance (30,489). That’s an increase of 1,511 over last season.

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