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Juan Nicasio zaps the Reds in 4-1 win

Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Juan Nicasio celebrated Ray Searage's contract extension with a dominant performance, shutting out the Reds over seven innings.  Nicasio allowed just three hits and a walk, and fanned eight, while throwing 63 of 97 pitches for strikes.  The closest thing to trouble he had was a leadoff double in the second by Jay Bruce, and Nicasio responded by striking out the side.

The Pirates' offense, meanwhile, spent much of the game pounding baseballs into the turf.  The team came into the game hitting significantly worse than the rest of MLB against the Reds over the last year and a month, and the pattern continued as Dan Straily induced a long series of groundouts.  Fortunately, David Freese managed to bloop a two-out single into right field in the third, driving in Jordy Mercer.  The following inning, Josh Harrison lined a low, outside pitch over the Clemente Wall for his first HR.  Harrison had kept Nicasio out of trouble in the top of the inning, making a diving stop on a Jay Bruce grounder that looked like it would defeat the shift, then making an acrobatic flip to second to get a force out.

The Pirates added some welcome insurance in the seventh when Matt Joyce, batting for Nicasio, sliced a fly ball just inside the foul pole in left with Mercer aboard on his second hit.  The HR was Joyce's third.  Joyce's hit made up for a disappointing end to the previous inning, when Starling Marte managed to get himself picked off second with two outs.

The runs provided by Joyce were all the more welcome when Tony Watson got off to a shaky start in the eighth.  He gave up a leadoff double to third-string catcher Jordan Pacheco, then had to throw an estimated 327 pitches before getting Billy Hamilton to take a third strike.  Fortunately, a couple fly balls ended the inning.  Arquimedes Caminero failed to get through the ninth, allowing a two-out, RBI double to second-string catcher Tucker Barnhart.  That created a save situation, which under current rules required the entry of Mark Melancon.  He got Bruce to pop out for a two-pitch cheapo save.