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|4:05 PM PT5:05 PM MT6:05 PM CT7:05 PM ET19:05 ET23:05 GMT7:05 4:05 PM MST6:05 PM EST6:35 PM VEN3:05 UAE (+1)6:05 PM CT, September 1, 2017
PNC Park, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania Attendance: 23,569
Reds open weekend series at Pittsburgh
PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds will have to decide what they are playing for in a weekend series that opens Friday night at PNC Park.
Pittsburgh (63-71), convinced after several mini-runs earlier in the season that it was in contention to win the National League Central, saw that dream take its biggest hit yet this week.
The Pirates had a day off Thursday after getting swept in a three-game series against the Chicago Cubs. They have lost 13 of their past 18.
That leaves the Pirates 10 1/2 games in back of the first-place Cubs in the division and 9 1/2 games back of the Colorado Rockies in the race for the second NL wild card.
"Let's just say the off day is going to be a good thing," Pittsburgh catcher Chris Stewart told triblive.com. "We need to clear our minds."
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, an unabashed optimist, was cryptic about his club's status as the calendar turns to September and Pittsburgh decides which late-season call-ups to make.
"We can play it a couple different ways -- if we're in it to compete, or if we're on the outside looking in," Hurdle said. "We've had all those conversations. If you monitor the moves we make moving forward, it will probably tell you which way we are headed."
The moves the Pirates make will be in addition to the loss of right-handed reliever Juan Nicasio, who was picked up off waivers by the Philadelphia Phillies. General manager Neal Huntington seemed to acknowledge Pittsburgh's practical elimination from the playoff race when explained in a statement why the team placed Nicasio, an impending free agent, on outright waivers.
"Given our recent record and regression in the standings, we intend to give the higher-leverage innings to other pitchers that may or will impact our 2018 club," Huntington said.
Cincinnati (57-77) is in last place in the division, six games behind the Pirates. The Reds beat the visiting New York Mets 7-2 Thursday to take two of three after dropping two of three to Pittsburgh last weekend. They have long been out of the race and have openly talked about cultivating a young lineup this season with an eye toward the future.
Mathematically, the Reds have a better chance of overtaking the Pirates to get out of the cellar than the Pirates have of catching the Cubs.
The matchup of Friday starters illustrates where the clubs are.
It is a rematch from Sunday, when the man pegged to be Pittsburgh's ace, right-hander Gerrit Cole (11-8, 3.99 ERA), goes against a projected big part of Cincinnati's future, right-hander Luis Castillo (2-7, 3.26 ERA).
On Saturday, Cole beat the Reds for the first time in his career after six losses in nine starts. He pitched seven shutout innings and hit a homer off Castillo in a 1-0 game.
"Just really trying to continue what I've been doing as of late and finish a little better," Cole said. "I was just focused on sticking with the process and trying to make pitches."
He will be looking for his first win at PNC Park since June 13. He is 0-2 with a 5.28 ERA at home in the interim.
Castillo, one of four Reds rookie starters, was nearly as strong as Cole on Saturday, save for that one pitch to the Pittsburgh starter. Castillo had a career-best nine strikeouts while allowing three hits and one walk over seven innings. It was his first career appearance against the Pirates.
Seven of his 13 starts have been quality starts.
"It's a shame he's 2-7 the way he's throwing the ball for us," Cincinnati manager Bryan Price said of Castillo. "He's been kind of our hard-luck guy. He seems to give us a chance to win the ballgame about every single time he takes the mound.
"This is the thing we wanted to see this year. We wanted to see some young players come up and perform. He has been certainly a bright spot to our season."
Updated September 1, 2017