While Jay Bruce is leading a productive stretch at the plate for the Cincinnati Reds, they're also enjoying a string of outstanding pitching performances as they continue to climb back to .500.
The visiting Reds will try to put up at least four runs in their 11th consecutive game Thursday when Tony Cingrani looks to help them take three of four from the slumping Pittsburgh Pirates.
Since suffering through a 4-for-35 stretch over an 11-game span, Bruce has rediscovered his stroke with 10 hits in 21 at_bats while knocking in a run in each of his last five contests. The two-time All-Star finished with two hits in Wednesday's 5-2 victory.
After a 6-5 loss in the opener, the surging Reds (10-11) have won the last two by a 9-3 margin. Speedy rookie Billy Hamilton has set the tone atop the lineup, going 4 for 10 with two stolen bases in those wins.
"It's not even the power," manager Bryan Price told the team's official website. "What we're looking for is good consistent at_bats from our lineup. It doesn't have to be home runs. It doesn't have to be ringing doubles in the gap. It's just got to be good, efficient and effective at_bats."
Price's club has averaged 6.0 runs and batted .300 while winning seven of 10, and the starters have posted a 1.85 ERA while limiting opponents to a .184 average over the past seven games.
Cingrani (1-2, 3.22 ERA), who has held opponents to a .182 average, hopes to continue that trend after allowing three runs while walking four over five innings of an 8-4 road loss to the Chicago Cubs on Saturday.
The left-hander has given up one hit over 2 1-3 scoreless innings in three relief appearances against the Pirates (9-13), who have totaled 21 runs while dropping five of six.
Cingrani will have to deal with a red-hot Andrew McCutchen, who homered for the third straight game Wednesday. The reigning NL MVP is 7 for 10 in this series and 16 for 31 with four homers over an eight-game hitting streak against Cincinnati, including last year's wild-card game.
Pittsburgh's Brandon Cumpton (2-1, 2.05 in 2013) will make his 2014 debut after veteran left-hander Wandy Rodriguez was placed on the disabled list Monday with a sore right knee.
The right-hander went 2-0 with a 1.42 ERA in three starts at Triple-A Indianapolis. He'll try to extend his 15-inning scoreless streak in his return, which is tied for the third-longest active streak among big league starters.
"I tried to learn from each outing (last season)," Cumpton said. "Take the positive and stick it in the memory bank, and also note what I struggled with and continue to work on those things and hopefully keep getting better."
Cumpton has made two of his five career starts against the Reds, going 1-0 with a 0.90 ERA. Bruce accounted for the only earned run off him in those meetings when he homered in a 5-3 home loss June 20.
Cumpton also pitched three scoreless innings of relief against the Reds last season.
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