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PITTSBURGH (AP) — Chad Kuhl went more than two months between victories earlier this season as his ERA soared and his confidence threatened to plummet.
Pittsburgh Pirates pitching coach Ray Searage never panicked. He kept reminding Kuhl that if the 24-year-old learned how to better navigate the anxious moments, better results would follow.
The learning curve may be starting to level off. Kuhl allowed just four singles in seven innings as the Pirates rolled by the Cincinnati Reds 6-0 on Thursday. Kuhl (4-7) walked two, struck out six and didn't allow a runner past second base. He worked seven innings for the second time in 36 career starts, throwing only 96 pitches.
"It's been tough just going through and having the struggles," Kuhl said. "But games like tonight ... just seeing it all kind of come together, it's made it worth it."
Kuhl is 2-2 with a 2.95 ERA since July 1. The Reds only pressed him once, putting runners on first and second with no outs in the fourth. Kuhl sandwiched strikeouts around a pop-up and Cincinnati never threatened again.
"Always kind of try and look ahead in those situations," Kuhl said. "Don't try and focus on what's happened. I walked a guy and gave up a flared single. I could say 'poor me' or I could just keep looking forward and making the next pitch."
Starling Marte went 3 for 5 and scored three times for the Pirates, who beat the last-place Reds for just the second time in 10 tries this season. David Freese went 3 for 4 with two RBIs for Pittsburgh. Andrew McCutchen also drove in a pair of runs. John Jaso's pinch-hit single in the seventh ended an 0-for-34 skid.
The top five hitters in the Pirates' lineup combined for 11 of Pittsburgh's 13 hits.
"Five guys together doing what they do," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. "Took what the pitchers gave us. It was good hitting."
Cincinnati rookie Sal Romano (2-3) was knocked around early, but settled down late, allowing four runs on eight hits in six innings.
"I gave up a lot of ground ball hits that just went through holes today," Romano said. "That kind of stuff happens, but you have to stick through it and keep battling."
Cincinnati, which had its three-game winning streak snapped, went 0 for 6 with runners in scoring position and left seven men on base. Center fielder Billy Hamilton was ejected in the fifth after arguing a called third strike with umpire Todd Tichenor.
The Reds' problems had more to do with Kuhl than Tichenor's strike zone.
"He attacked us," manager Bryan Price said. "The only guy he seemed to have trouble with really was Joey in finding a way to get him out. Joey was able to grind him out for a base hit and a couple of walks. But beyond that, we weren't able to do a lot."
The Pirates, in danger of falling out of the NL Central race entirely thanks to a 2-8 slide against San Diego, San Francisco and Cincinnati, wasted little time getting to Romano.
Marte led off with a single and came around to score when Adam Frazier singled and left fielder Adam Duvall's throw overshot third base. McCutchen drove in Frazier with a groundout to give Kuhl and early 2-0 lead.
Pittsburgh's advantage doubled in the third. Marte led off with a double and scored on an RBI single by McCutchen. Two batters later, Freese drove in McCutchen.
Reds: RHP Anthony DeSclafani, on the disabled list since April 2 with sprained ligament in his right elbow, exited a rehab start at Class A Dayton with right forearm discomfort. DeSclafani — who allowed eight runs and eight hits before leaving the game — will be re-evaluated in Cincinnati on Friday.
Pirates: 2B Josh Harrison was given the night off to rest his achy left ankle. Harrison initially hurt the ankle in a victory over San Diego on Sunday. He pinch hit on Wednesday but was held out 24 hours later.
Reds: Cincinnati returns to Great American Ballpark for a seven-game homestand beginning with a weekend set against St. Louis. Rookie Asher Wojciechowski (1-1, 4.50 ERA) makes his fifth career start on Friday.
Pirates: Pittsburgh welcomes San Diego for a three-game series on Friday. Ivan Nova (10-8. 3.75) faces Travis Wood (2-3, 6.42) in the opener. The Padres took two of three from Pittsburgh in San Diego last weekend.
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