PITTSBURGH -- Even though his Reds had won eight of their previous nine games and sat in first place entering Monday, manager Dusty Baker was wary of the Pirates as they started a three-game series.
"This is a dangerous series right here," Baker said. "They can pitch, No. 1. And they're knocking on the door at .500. This is their chance to really get back into the race -- here and at Houston [for the next series]. We're in first place. Now we're the hunted instead of the hunter. Let's see how we respond and if we can pad this lead."
Pittsburgh's pitching staff entered the day third in the Major Leagues with a 3.25 ERA, while Cincinnati's 3.45 mark was fifth in the Majors and fourth in the National League. The Bucs' 2.33 ERA at home was second best in the Majors.
Quick learner: Cozart back in form after slump
PITTSBURGH -- Reds rookie shortstop Zack Cozart had been struggling as pitchers got the book on him. But lately, he has re-ignited after figuring some things out.
Cozart has learned that adjustments come much faster in the Majors than in Triple-A.
"It's a cat-and-mouse game all year. It will keep being that way," Cozart said. "Scouting reports are all over the place. At Triple-A, a team might not even know who you are, much less [have] seen you hit or struggle with a certain pitch. They adjusted to me here once I was seeing the ball better. I had to adjust to them once they started throwing me a certain way."
During the previous seven-game road trip through Atlanta and New York, Cozart was 2-for-26. Entering Monday, when he did not start vs. the Pirates, the 26-year-old had hit safely in seven of eight games while batting .303 (10-for-33). He was 1-for-9 in the past two games, however.
Overall, Cozart came in batting .243 with five home runs and 12 RBIs.
"Everybody is going to have those streaks, 0-for-10, 1-for-14 or whatever it is," Cozart said. "You just have to get out of it as quick as possible. If the pitchers are throwing a certain way and keep getting you out, they'll keep doing it. The quicker you can make the adjustment, the better."
Cozart has also made some exceptional defensive plays the past few days.
"For me, that's what I always fall back on," he said. "If I'm not hitting or the offense isn't there that particular day, hopefully I can make some plays. When I go home at night, I feel good helping the team win as much with defense as hitting."
Valdez, Cairo afforded opportunity to start
PITTSBURGH -- The Reds' Monday lineup vs. the Pirates included rare starts for Wilson Valdez and Miguel Cairo. Valdez manned shortstop in Zack Cozart's place, while Cairo was at third base for Todd Frazier.
"Today isn't as much about [Cozart] getting a rest as much as I need to play Valdez," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "He's played less than anybody on the team."
Valdez came in batting .195 in 21 games this season. Cairo, who entered batting .143 in 16 games, started on Saturday but exited in the fourth inning as part of a double switch.
"I tried to get Miggy at-bats the other day, but I had to take him out after only two at-bats, which I hated to do. But I needed that spot for pitching," Baker said.