Friday, April 8, 2016

Pirates call on Liriano to get early jump on Reds

The Pirates won 98 games last season, posting the Majors' second-best record and reaching the postseason for the third straight year. But they couldn't quite figure out the Reds, the National League Central's last-place team a year ago.
Looking to keep up in an increasingly competitive division, Pittsburgh must first improve its record against Cincinnati. The Bucs will get their first shot to do so Friday at Great American Ball Park, where they will open their season series against the Reds at 7:10 p.m. ET. 
The Reds beat the Pirates in 11 of their 19 meetings last season despite finishing the year 64-98. Cincinnati swept the clubs' first series a year ago in Cincinnati, pulling out three wins by a total of five runs. The Reds will be looking to start the season 4-0 for the second straight year.
The Pirates will send Opening Day starter Francisco Liriano to the mound, while right-hander Alfredo Simon will make his season debut for the Reds. Liriano struck out 10 and walked five over six scoreless innings in a win over the Cardinals on Sunday.
Things to know about the game
• Liriano has been lights-out against Cincinnati's current crop of hitters. The 13 Reds who have faced Liriano own a collective .212/.307/.321 batting line against him. Catcher Devin Mesoraco has fared the best against the Pirates lefty, going 5-for-13 with seven walks and only two strikeouts. 
• The Pirates used the same starting lineup in each of their first three games facing the Cardinals, with John Jaso batting leadoff and Andrew McCutchen second against a trio of right-handed starting pitchers. Coming off an off-day Thursday, expect to see manager Clint Hurdle deploy the same order against Simon.
• Simon has faced McCutchen (32 plate appearances) and Starling Marte (31 PAs) more than any other hitter in his eight-year career. McCutchen is 7-for-26 with a homer and Marte is 9-for-27 with two doubles.
• Expect catcher Devin Mesoraco, shortstop Zack Cozart and center fielder Billy Hamilton to return to the Reds' starting lineup. All three were given a break on Thursday as manager Bryan Price is trying to ease all three back into the grind after they had major surgeries in 2015. Second baseman Brandon Phillips has been day to day with a stomach bug and has missed the last two games.

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