PITTSBURGH -- With a large letter "A" carved into the dirt in front of him, Amir Garrett made his mark on the mound Wednesday night. The rookie left-hander, a former 22nd-round Draft pick making his second Major League start, led the Reds to a 9-2 win over the Pirates and a convincing series sweep at PNC Park.
Garrett carried a shutout into the seventh inning, building off the six scoreless innings he threw in his Major League debut on Friday. Think it's safe to say the young lefty is exceeding expectations?
"The numbers have. The competitiveness, no, because I've heard about that for the longest time, about what type of competitor Amir is," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "The ability to command his stuff, and the fact he's pitched two games so far now, both games on the road, St. Louis and Pittsburgh, division rivals, never been in the big leagues before, and pitching as well as he has, that's beyond my expectations for sure."
The 24-year-old lefty held the Bucs to two runs on five hits while striking out five in 6 2/3 innings and has now registered a win in both of his starts. He was backed by plenty of support, as the Reds pounded out 15 hits, including five doubles.
Garrett's streak of 12 scoreless innings to start his career was the longest by a Reds pitcher since 1970. Price and Garrett credited his changeup for his success against a Pirates lineup loaded with right-handed hitters.
"There's deception and change of speed," Price said. "He's got a sinking fastball, the ability to throw that sweeping slider -- and then the changeup today was a death pitch, it really was."
"Amir did a great job. He's got a big arm," Pirates third baseman David Freese said. "It plays harder than it says on the [radar] gun. … He had a good one his first time out, and he did it again tonight."
The Reds, at 7-2 off to their best nine-game start since they opened 9-0 in 1990, used two big innings to blow past the Pirates. Five of Pittsburgh starter Ivan Nova's six innings were clean, but Cincinnati quickly tagged him for four runs in the fifth. Eugenio Suarez led the way for the Reds with three hits and a bases-clearing double off reliever Antonio Bastardo in the seventh that put the game out of reach. The Reds outscored the Pirates, 22-5, in the three-game series.
"They pitched extremely well. They played extremely well," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "They swung the bats extremely well."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED Breaking through: Nova breezed through four innings, but he ran into trouble when the Reds jumped on him in the fifth. Cincinnati's first five hitters reached safely, and by the time Nova recorded an out, the Reds had built a four-run lead. Zack Cozart and Tucker Barnhart hit consecutive doubles, scoring one run, then Garrett reached safely on a misplayed ball by Freese at third base. Billy Hamilton slapped a ground-ball RBI single through the right side, and Jose Peraza punctuated the rally with a two-run double to left.
"Didn't pitch the way I was supposed to," Nova said. "I was able to give my team six innings. After that, it didn't want to work. At least I gave six innings."
Deep Freese: The Pirates went hitless all series -- 0-for-24 -- with runners in scoring position, but Freese continued to be one of the few bright spots in Pittsburgh's lineup. With Andrew McCutchen on first base in the seventh inning, Freese crushed his second home run of the season to right field, breaking up Garrett's shutout bid. Freese's opposite-field blast came off his bat at 102.3 mph, according to Statcast™, and traveled a projected 388 feet into the right-field seats. In his first seven games, Freese is batting .350/.480/.650 with more walks (five) than strikeouts (three).
"I think my timing's good. I'm focused. I feel like my approach is pretty good," Freese said. "Guys in scoring position, I'm not really getting it done yet there, but I've had some walks. I think my ABs are good."
"It's part of the game. It's early in the season. Stuff like that's going to happen. We're just trying to find a way [for the] offense to get going, pitching to do better and stuff like that. We've got to stay positive and keep fighting." --Nova, on the Pirates getting swept
"There's a lot of good fruit to pick from the outing. He had one rough inning. When you're not scoring runs either, everything gets magnified." --Hurdle, on Nova
SOUND SMART WITH YOUR FRIENDS
The Reds picked up five wins on a six-game road trip for the first time since August-September 2012, when they won five of six in Arizona and Houston.
This was the Reds' first sweep of the Pirates in Pittsburgh since Sept. 10-12, 2010.
WHAT'S NEXT Reds The Reds open a 10-game homestand against the Brewers on Thursday at 7:10 p.m. ET with Bronson Arroyo on the mound facing Jimmy Nelson at Great American Ball Park. Arroyo, 40, gave up six runs in four innings in his first start, a 10-4 loss to St. Louis.
Pirates: The Bucs will begin a seven-day, seven-game, three-city road trip in Boston on Thursday, playing a makeup game against the Red Sox at Fenway Park. First pitch is scheduled for 2:05 p.m. ET. Coming off a shaky season debut in which he walked six batters, right-hander Chad Kuhl will start against Boston lefty Eduardo Rodriguez.