McCoy: Reds drop series opener vs. Skenes, Pirates

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

The Pittsburgh Pirates much-publicized pitcher, Paul Skenes, was almost as advertised.

With his much-deserved attention, one might expect him to pitch a perfect game and strikeout 27 Cincinnati Reds on Monday night in PNC Park.

Not quite ... but Skenes was a well-polished, well-poised 21-year-old rookie for six innings during the Pirates’ 4-1 victory.

At 6-foot-6, Skenes must have resembled a giraffe to the Reds’ hitters who faced 100 mph fastballs and a repertorie of five different pitches. And all were thrown for strikes — 96 pitches, 69 strikes.

The Reds became the first team to score a first-inning run off the No. 1 overall draft pick in last year’s draft.

But that was it. Skenes gave up just the one run, six hits, walked one and struck out seven during his six innings. He is 4-0 in seven starts and the Pirates have won six of them.

After the Reds scored one to open the game, the Pirates scored three in the bottom of the first against Reds rookie Carson Spiers, making his major-league starting debut.

The Reds and Pirates entered the game tied for third in the National League Central at 34-37, so the defeat dropped the Reds to fourth place.

And the Pirates are like the Milwaukee Brewers when it concerns the Reds. They own a large piece of them. The Pirates have won 21 of the last 33 against the Reds.

The Pirates banged five doubles in the first three innings against Spiers and led, 3-1. Spiers then settled in and pitched four scoreless innings after giving up a run in the second.

But the Reds could do no damage against Skenes, Aroldis Chapman, Colin Holderman and closer David Bednar, absorbing their fifth loss in seven games.

His teammates gave Spiers little comfort and aid.

Elly De La Cruz led off the sixth with an infield single and Skenes picked him off.

Jake Fraley was hit by a pitch to open the seventh and Chapman picked him off.

De La Cruz had three of the Reds seven hits and stole his league-leading 37th base, but in addition to getting picked off, he made his 15th error, most for a shortstop in MLB.

Not only did the Reds become the first team to score on Skenes in the first inning, they were the first to navigate the first inning without striking out.

He retired the first two to open the game, then Jeimer Candelario singled. Up to then, opposing teams were 1 for 21 with 12 strikeouts against Skenes in the first inning.

Candelario stole second and scored on Spencer Steer’s double and it was 1-0. From there, the Reds had three hits and coaxed one walk from Skenes, who was still throwing 100 mph fastballs in the sixth inning.

But his out pitch, his strikeout pitch was something called the splinker, a combination split-fingered slider and approaches home plate and dives dirtward.

Spiers displayed frayed nerves in the first inning. He threw six straight pitches out of the zone. The first four walked leadoff hitter Andrew McCutchen. He went 2-and-0 on Bryan Reynolds and dangled one in the center of the plate and Reynolds bashed it for a double.

The next batter, O’Neil Cruz, singled to left for two runs and a 2-1 Pittsburgh lead. Cruz later scored the third run on a ground ball by Ke’Brian Hayes.

The Pirates made it 4-1 in the second on a two-out double by McCutchen and a double by Reynolds.

And that ended the scoring for both teams.

Another feature in this one was a matchup of shortstops. Both Cincinnati’s De La Cruz and Pittsburgh’s Cruz are 6-foot-5, making them the two tallest shortstops every to start in the same game.

Pittsburgh’s Cruz waws 1 for 4 with a run scored and a strikeout. Cincinnati’s De La Cruz was 3 for 4, with a double.

After the Reds batted in the eighth, manager David Bell came to home plate for a discussion that quickly escalated. Bell’s use of the mother language was rejected and he was ejected and later dejected over the game’s outcome.

And Reds center field T.J. Friedl made a spectacular diving catch of a hard line drive hit by Nick Gonzalez in the fifth. He came up rubbing the inner thigh of his right leg and left the game.

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