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Apr. 6—Join the conversation

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The three home runs the Pittsburgh Pirates hit Monday night at Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati were encouraging.

Until you understand reality: There was nobody on base for all three, and that was the situation for most of night.

The Pirates had two hits in the first inning, two in the ninth and one in between — a single by starting pitching JT Brubaker — in a 5-3 loss to the Cincinnati Reds (3-1).

Pirates pitchers held a team that had been averaging nine runs per game to five, but the other side of the ball told the story. The Pirates (1-3) have lost three in a row while scoring a total of seven runs.

The problem was making contact, bat to ball. Reds pitchers struck out 15, accounting for more than half of their outs.

After Phillip Evans and Colin Moran homered in the first inning to build a 2-0 lead, Reds starter Jose De Leon was in complete control, striking out nine in five innings.

Bryan Reynolds homered in the ninth — a shot that left his bat at 112.5 mph and landed 422 feet from home plate — and Moran followed with a single to raise his four-game batting average to .357.

Closer Amir Garrett recovered, striking out Erik Gonzalez and getting Gregory Polanco (.071, 1 for 14) to bounce into a force out. But when he walked Jacob Stallings, the Pirates had a pulse.

Not for long. Pinch-hitter Kevin Newman (.214, 3 for 14) grounded out to end the game.

“We continued to grind out at-bats and had opportunities and just didn’t capitalize,” manager Derek Shelton said. “De Leon used his fastball effectively. Located his fastball, used it later in counts. Gave us a little trouble.”

Shelton said it was matter of faulty timing at the plate.

“The middle part of the game we were a little bit late to hit,” he said. “That was the thing that stood out. That’s why the fastball got on us a little bit.”

Evans started his second game in a row in place of Ke’Bryan Hayes and struck out twice. But he has not been the problem. His home run traveled 445 feet, one of four hits in eight at-bats this season.

Pitching has been acceptable, too, for the most part. Brubaker allowed one run and three hits in four innings while striking out six. He walked four batters and one of them scored on De Leon’s single, the first hit of his career. Still, Brubaker left with a 2-1 lead.

“We have to make sure we stay in the (strike) zone,” Shelton said. “When we’re getting in trouble, we’re getting out of the zone.

“I thought (Brubaker’s) stuff was good. The thing that was his downfall, he had too many deep counts. I thought the breaking ball was good until he got to two strikes and then the execution of it wasn’t as sharp as we would have wanted.

“Overall, not a bad outing. But something we can definitely learn from and grow from because he’s got good stuff.”

Brubaker knew where he went wrong.

“I tried to expand too much, got ahead of guys and fell right back behind, instead of just being aggressive over the middle of the plate,” he said.

Rookie reliever Luis Oviedo, 21, threw two innings and struck out four batters in a row. But Michael Moustakas homered in the fifth to tie the score, 2-2.

“Execution of pitches, execution of timing of his delivery, it was really good,” Shelton said of Oviedo. “Definitely a step in the right direction for a kid like that.”

The bullpen had been strong in the first three games, but Sam Howard surrendered Nick Castellanos tie-breaking home run in the seventh and Michael Feliz gave up two runs in the eighth.

Nothing alarming at the moment, but the margin of error for pitchers is thin when runs are scarce.

Moran believes the offense will find traction.

“We put up a good fight,” he said. “Just keep going up there putting up good at-bats and we’re going to score runs.”

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Jerry DiPaola is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Jerry by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .

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