CINCINNATI (AP) — Tucker Barnhart hadn’t hit a homer in nearly a year, compiling one of the longest droughts in the majors. He ended it with a swing from the side of the plate where he struggles most.
Barnhart hit the last of Cincinnati’s three solo homers off Jonathon Niese, and Reds relievers threw three scoreless innings — a rarity for the major leagues’ worst bullpen — to close out a 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates on Monday night.
Zack Cozart and Joey Votto also connected off Niese (3-2), with all three homers barely reaching the stands in left field. Barnhart’s tiebreaking homer in the seventh was upheld on review.
“I was lucky to square one up,” said Barnhart, who has five career homers. “It’s always nice to hit home runs, but it’s better to get big hits.”
Barnhart’s first homer since last May 27 ended the seventh-longest active streak without a homer in the major leagues at 270 at-bats. The switch-hitter batted only .178 from the right side last season without an extra-base hit. All of his homers had come batting lefty.
“I’ve been doing a lot of work to make my right-handed and left-handed swings closer together in consistency,” Barnhart said. “I think I’m getting close. It’s refreshing to see some success. I had one right-handed in spring training, and that was my first as a professional.”
It was the first time this season that Niese allowed three homers in a game. Manager Clint Hurdle left him in to pitch the seventh knowing that Barnhart struggles from the right side of the plate.
“That’s the reason we pushed him out there for the seventh,” Hurdle said. “It’s the bottom of the order. We wanted Barnhart to bat right-handed. You see how things worked out.”
J.C. Ramirez (1-2) and Blake Wood each pitched a hitless inning. Tony Cingrani gave up a leadoff double by Jung Ho Kang in the ninth but escaped with the help of a nice play by second baseman Brandon Phillips, who snagged Jordy Mercer’s grounder to prevent a run. It was Cingrani’s second career save and only the Reds’ third save of the season in nine chances.
Dan Straily allowed a pair of runs in his sixth and final inning, when the Pirates loaded the bases and scored on Francisco Cervelli’s sacrifice fly to the warning track in center and Kang’s groundout. That left it up to a bullpen that had allowed at least one run in 25 of Cincinnati’s last 26 games, including a major league-record 23 straight games through last Friday.
Niese hit Votto with a pitch in the first inning. Over the last four seasons, the Pirates have hit 39 Reds batters (three this season) and the Reds have hit 39 Pirates batters (six this season).
Cozart’s sixth leadoff homer tied him for fourth on the Reds career list, trailing Pete Rose (18), Kal Daniels (10) and Barry Larkin (9). It was the first leadoff homer allowed by the Pirates since the Braves’ Jason Heyward hit one on Aug. 18, 2014. … Billy Hamilton singled off Ryan Vogelsong in the eighth, leaving him 6 for 8 career against the right-hander. … Eight of Kang’s last nine hits against the Reds have gone for extra bases — five doubles and three homers, including a grand slam.
HELPING THE ‘PEN
The Reds called up RHP Layne Somsen from Triple-A Louisville to help their overworked bullpen. OF Kyle Waldrop was sent back to Louisville after spending only one day in Cincinnati and failing to get an at-bat.
Pirates: Kang was back in the lineup at third base after getting a day of rest in St. Louis.
Reds: LHP John Lamb is wearing a brace on his left thumb for a few days. He sprained it while batting on Sunday and left the game. Manager Bryan Price plans to skip his next turn in the rotation, giving him time to heal. The Reds have a day off Thursday that will allow them to rearrange the starters.