(Photo credit: Sam Greene/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK)
Coming off one of their most discouraging and damaging losses of the season, the Cincinnati Reds will open a three-game series against the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates on Friday looking to make one last push toward the postseason.
It marks the final home series of the regular season for Cincinnati (79-75).
The Reds led the Minnesota Twins 2-0 after six innings on Wednesday. Cincinnati starter Hunter Greene struck out a career-high 14 batters and exited with a 2-1 lead, allowing only Willi Castro's solo home run in the seventh along with two other hits.
The Reds added insurance in their half of the seventh thanks to an RBI single from Luke Maile, but Minnesota pulled within 3-2 in the eighth before getting to closer Alexis Diaz for three runs in the ninth. The Twins' 5-3 win dealt a serious blow to Cincinnati's wild-card bid in the National League while also handing the Reds their third loss in the last four games.
Cincinnati sits a half-game back from the Cubs and Marlins for the third and final NL wild-card spot. Chicago and Miami own identical 79-74 records.
"While it definitely does hurt, it's obvious that we needed that one. It's not going to be difficult for this squad to bounce back from," Maile said. "We've got the off day (Thursday), a team we're familiar with this weekend. We can see the finish line. We've just got to take care of business."
The 14 strikeouts by Greene were the most by a Reds pitcher since Ron Villone struck out 16 on Sept. 29, 2000, at St. Louis.
"These are the most important games I've ever played in," Greene said. "I feel like I've been built for these situations. There's no hiding from them. I have to be able to come out and compete and be locked in from the first pitch to the last. You have to embrace these moments."
Rookie left-hander Andrew Abbott (8-5, 3.68 ERA) will start for the Reds in Friday's series opener, making his 20th start of the season. The 24-year-old labored in his last start, needing 91 pitches to complete just 3 2/3 innings while allowing two runs and six hits against the New York Mets last Saturday. Cincinnati pulled out a 3-2 win as Abbott received a no-decision.
In five starts since beating Cleveland on Aug. 16, Abbott is 0-2 with a 6.33 ERA. He allowed two runs on four hits in 5 2/3 innings back on Aug. 11 to earn a victory in his only career start against Pittsburgh.
The Pirates (72-81) come to Cincinnati looking to continue playing the role of spoiler. One day after being on the wrong end of a 14-1 rout against the Cubs, Pittsburgh bounced back with a 13-7 win on Wednesday. On Thursday, the Pirates took the rubber match, 8-6.
"One of the things I've learned about our group is they're not scared," Pirates manager Derek Shelton said. "We got it handed to us (Tuesday), and they came right back out with a bunch of young kids and kept their foot on the gas, and I'm really proud of them for that."
In addition to playing spoiler, the Pirates are looking to reach key milestones. On Wednesday, staff ace Mitch Keller recorded his 200th strikeout of the year, becoming the sixth Pirate since 1900 with at least 200 strikeouts in a season.
"It definitely means a lot," Keller said. "A lot of hard work and perseverance. Even going back to last year, if you told me I'd be in this spot, I'd probably laugh and never believe you."
Pittsburgh has yet to officially name a starter for Friday's meeting with the Reds. Right-hander Luis L. Ortiz (4-5, 4.85) could get the nod. He gave up four runs on six hits in 4 2/3 innings in a loss against the New York Yankees last Saturday.
Ortiz logged 5 2/3 scoreless innings on Sept. 13 in his only previous start against Cincinnati.
--Field Level Media