CINCINNATI – Pittsburgh emergency catcher Josh VanMeter had a rough time in his first try behind the plate since he was a teenager, and the Cincinnati Reds took advantage to end a nine-game losing streak, beating the Pirates 9-2 Saturday in the opener of a doubleheader.
Tyler Stephenson fouled a ball hard off VanMeter’s mask, then hit a tiebreaking, bases-loaded double in the eighth inning that fueled a seven-run burst.
Pirates starting catcher Roberto Pérez was helped off the field with a left hamstring injury after falling while rounding second base in the top of the eighth. Backup catcher Andrew Knapp had been ejected by plate umpire Will Little in the bottom of the sixth for chirping from the dugout.
That left VanMeter as the Pirates’ next best option at the plate — recently, the second baseman/outfielder recalled the last time he caught was when he was 14 or 15 years old.
The 27-year-old VanMeter, who began his career with Cincinnati in 2019 and is in his first season with the Pirates, moved from second base to behind the plate to begin the eighth and did his best. He also showed how hard it is to be a catcher, even for a pro who has played most everywhere on the diamond.
Working with a new, inexperienced batterymate, Wil Crowe (1-2) hit Brandon Drury with a pitch and walked Tommy Pham and Mike Moustakas to start the eighth with no outs and the score 2-all.
Stephenson stepped up and fouled the first pitch directly back. VanMeter took off his mask for a moment to recover and Little went to the mound to give Crowe a new ball, giving the new catcher a break. Stephenson, the Cincinnati catcher, and VanMeter shared a few words in the interim.
With the count 0-2, VanMeter stabbed at three straight sliders near the zone but didn’t get any of the calls — perhaps his obvious lack of pitch framing experience cost the Pirates.
Stephenson followed by hitting a line drive down the right field line that eluded a diving Ben Gamel and rolled to the wall for two runs. It was Stephenson’s third hit of the day and gave him a career-high four RBIs.
Kyle Farmer added a sacrifice fly before Tyler Naquin drove in three runs with a bases-loaded double. Only three of the runs were earned after pitcher Beau Sulser’s error.
The Reds posted their highest run total of the season and won for the first time since beating St. Louis 4-1 on April 24. Cincinnati still owns baseball’s worst record at 4-22.
Pittsburgh loaded the bases with nobody out in the eighth against Lucas Sims (1-0), who bounced back to strike out Ke’Bryan Hayes, Daniel Vogelbach and Michael Chavis.
The Pirates have lost three of their last four and seven of their last nine games. Saturday’s doubleheader was the second in four days for the Pirates, who split a twinbill in Detroit on Wednesday.
The announced first game attendance of 9,267 was Cincinnati’s second-smallest of the season at home, just ahead of the 9,192 on hand for an 8-5 loss to San Diego on April 27.
Pirates starter J.T. Brubaker tied his single-game career high with nine strikeouts in five innings. The Reds reached Brubaker for three hits and two runs with two walks.
In his second appearance and start for the Reds since being promoted from Triple-A Louisville and first career appearance against his former team, Reds right-hander Connor Overton didn’t walk anybody while allowing six hits and two runs with four strikeouts in 5 2-3 innings.
Reds: LHP Nick Lodolo, who was expected to come off the 10-day injured lost to start the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader, was scratched with the return of soreness in his lower back.
Pirates: RHP Zach Thompson (1-3, 9.39), who has lost each of his last three starts, was Pittsburgh’s scheduled starter for Sunday’s series finale.
Reds: RHP Tyler Mahle (1-4, 7.01) is due to try breaking his three-start losing streak on Sunday.
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