PITTSBURGH (AP) Whatever chance the Pittsburgh Pirates have of elbowing their way into the conversation in the NL Central hinges largely on their starting rotation living up to the hype.
A week in, all that talk looks legit. Playing the struggling Cincinnati Reds helps.
Joe Musgrove allowed three hits in seven efficient innings and the Pirates handed the Reds their third straight shutout with a 2-0 victory on Friday night. Musgrove struck out eight and didn't walk a batter in his first start, matching and in some aspects outdoing fellow starters Jameson Taillon, Chris Archer, Jordan Lyles and Trevor Williams.
Musgrove watched the other four members of the rotation throw gem after gem during their respective first turns through and couldn't wait for his opportunity. When it came, he delivered, dropping the combined ERA of Pittsburgh's rotation to 1.25 through six games in the process.
''It fires me up,'' Musgrove said. ''I think we all feed off each other. We're competing in a sense of wanting to go out and top each other's outings. Everyone is pulling for each other and this is what we expect of each other every fifth day out there.''
Musgrove and two relievers didn't allow a runner to reach third base while sending Cincinnati to its sixth consecutive loss. The Reds have managed just six runs during their slide, and none since Eugenio Suarez's solo home run in the eighth inning against Milwaukee on Tuesday.
Cincinnati's scoreless streak reached 28 innings when Felipe Vazquez retired Yaisel Puig to end it, the longest drought by the Reds since they went 30 innings without crossing the plate from Aug. 5-8, 2015. The Reds are hitting just .157 as a team after a pair of blankings at PNC Park.
''It's always disappointing when you don't win, but there's only one thing to do and that's to focus on staying with it and continuing to work hard, which they all are doing,'' rookie Cincinnati manager David Bell said.
Jung Ho Kang broke a scoreless tie in the seventh when he lined a double into the left-field corner off Sonny Gray (0-2), allowing 6-foot-4, 240-pound Josh Bell to chug all the way around from first.
''In that situation, the way that the game is going, I think everyone in the stadium knows he's going to send me there,'' Bell said. ''Jung Ho put it in the right spot. I was able to keep my footwork clean around the bases.''
Adam Frazier added an RBI double in the eighth off Reds reliever Zach Duke. Vazquez worked a perfect ninth for his second save.
GRAY BOUNCES BACK
Gray dazzled in his second start for Cincinnati, retiring 16 straight at one point and striking out seven without a walk in 6 2/3 innings. His performance dropped the Reds' starters ERA to 2.16, a bright spot in Cincinnati's otherwise bumpy opening week.
''I was fine,'' Gray said. ''I couldn't command the ball my last start. This start, I could command it a little bit better. I want to go after guys.''
Gray arrived in January as part of Cincinnati's offseason overhaul, an effort by the club to climb back into contention after four straight last-place finishes. His initial start for the Reds was forgettable. He lasted just 2 2/3 innings in a loss to the Pirates last Sunday, needing 71 pitches to record eight outs.
Things were far different five days later at chilly PNC Park.
Mixing speed and location effectively, Gray allowed a single to Francisco Cervelli with two outs in the first but Pittsburgh didn't get another runner on base until Starling Marte led off the seventh with a single. His lone mistake came on a curveball that Kang dumped into the corner of spacious left field, giving Bell enough time to go 270 feet.
David Bell called Gray's outing ''a great step.''
''He was much more comfortable today than he was the first time out,'' Bell said. ''We know that he battled that day too. It's never easy, but I think it was a little bit easier for him tonight with the stuff that he had.''
Pirates: RHP Kyle Crick was placed on the 10-day injured list with tightness in his right triceps. Pittsburgh called up OF Jason Martin to take Crick's roster spot.
Reds: Tanner Roark (0-1, 6.23 ERA) makes his second start for the Reds on Saturday. Roark, acquired in an offseason trade with Washington, allowed three runs in 4 1/3 innings in a loss to Milwaukee last Monday.
Pirates: Trevor Williams (1-0, 0.00) will look to back up the six shutout innings he tossed last Sunday against Cincinnati when he makes his second start of the season.
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