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PIT@CIN: Liriano strikes out seven in loss to Reds

When the Reds visit Pittsburgh for a three-game set, the series opener is bound to be more routine this time around. When the teams last met, Cincinnati took two of three from the Pirates at home, with the Bucs lone win coming in a wacky, record-setting opener.

The teams combined to hit 10 homers -- a record for Great American Ballpark -- the game was suspended by rain and the Pirates won, 8-7, the following day.

"That's the only experience I've had with that," Jay Bruce said of the game. "I've actually finished one game the next day before, but nothing in that fashion. Nothing with all the home runs and the rain was just -- it was a weird game."

Francisco Liriano will look to keep a revitalized Reds lineup in check when he takes the mound against Mike Leake in the series opener at PNC Park.  

Liriano hasn't been as sharp as he would like so far this season. He's 0-3 with a 3.96 ERA. It's just not the Liriano of 2013. 

"Remember, Liriano was pitching down in the Minor Leagues in April. He wasn't here in April last year, so the factors that are involved there is he's getting into a nice routine now being up here and being ready to get on top of his game," Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage said.

Leake is 2-1 with a 2.95 ERA in three starts this season.

The Reds have started to turn things around offensively after a sluggish start. Cincinnati limped out of the gate to a 3-8 start, averaging just 2.5 runs per game in that span. Reds manager Bryan Price then moved Joey Votto up a spot in the order to second and the offense responded. Cincinnati has since gone 5-3 while averaging 5.8 runs per game, and hasn't scored fewer than four runs in that span.

And it hasn't just been Votto, who's hitting .400 (10-for-25) since. Devin Mesoraco enters the series with a career-high nine-game hitting streak and .545 average over his last six games, Billy Hamilton has scored three runs and stolen five bases in his last five games and Bruce overcame an early funk by going 5-for-13 in the weekend series against the Cubs.  

"Our pitching's been great this year. All year, pretty much," Bruce said. "We've started clicking on kind of all cylinders and scoring some runs, and getting back on track."

Reds: Hamilton's hot hitting due to better pitch selection
Hamilton has turned things around at the plate as of late after a rough start. In the last five games, he's 7-for-18 (.389).

Price attributed Hamilton's recent success to "better pitch selection."  

"Taking advantage of the pitches that he is getting to handle," Price said. "And also hitting more balls as line drives and a couple of pull ground balls through the right side, which was good [Saturday] along with a bunt base hit, doing the things that make him successful.

"A lot of balls with a lot of air under them aren't going to benefit Billy a great deal, but those line drives and ground balls work pretty well for him."

Pirates: Hurdle, Searage give starters vote of confidence
Liriano isn't the only starter to be a little bit off through the first two weeks of the 2014 season.

Pittsburgh starters have posted a 4.27 ERA, 12th in the National League.

"We are addressing some problems right now," Searage said. "Sometimes we're getting some hiccups, there is no doubt about that. We're not the sharpest that we can be, and that's going to take some time, but the [bullpen sessions] were addressed. We are having conversations on hitters and stuff and execution of pitches and what we have to do in order to be successful and be consistent. There's a lot of things that we're addressing.

Said Pirates manager Clint Hurdle, "I'm confident they are going to correct. It is a small sample size, because there's been volumes within the work that have been very clean and efficient. It's consistency, it's conviction with that intent to get the execution that we need."

Worth noting
• Mesoraco's nine-game hitting streak to start the season, after coming off the DL on April 7, is the longest for the Reds since Barry Larkin hit in 12 straight to start the 1995 season.

• Zack Cozart posted five RBIs in the three-game series with the Cubs, driving in at least one in each game.

• Pirates reliever Mark Melancon has not allowed a home run in his last 73 innings, the longest active streak among all pitchers. He last surrendered a home run on April 14, 2013, a solo shot by Votto at PNC Park.

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