CINCINNATI – James McDonald is having problems with the big inning.
Ramon Hernandez hit a grand slam during Cincinnati's seven-run fifth inning, and the Reds overpowered the Pirates 11-2 on Saturday, sending Pittsburgh to its fifth loss in six games.
Hernandez's game-turning homer was his third hit off McDonald (0-1), who let a tied game get away quickly. The Reds sent 10 batters to the plate for seven runs in the inning, capped by Drew Stubbs' two-run homer.
"I had a bad game," McDonald said. "A lot of balls weren't going exactly where I wanted them to. I was off."
McDonald also had one very bad inning in his last start. He gave up four runs in the first inning of a 6-5 loss to Colorado last Sunday. In both games, the 26-year-old pitcher had problems keeping his head aligned with the plate during his delivery.
"This is part of the growth you're going to see from time to time at the major league level," manager Clint Hurdle said. "You leave balls elevated in the big leagues, up in the strike zone, more often than not they're going to end up in the seats. That's what happened today. That's your classic grand slam right there."
Jonny Gomes also had a solo shot and a two-run homer. The Reds matched their season high with four homers, several hours after falling to the Pirates 6-1 in the series opener.
Pittsburgh's pitching has been its strength during the first two weeks, allowing the Pirates to get off to an encouraging start despite their weak offense. Neither one did much of anything on Saturday.
The Reds have led the NL Central since opening day with an offense among the league's best. They got rolling against McDonald on a brisk, windy afternoon — 50 degrees with light showers. The right-hander allowed nine hits and a pair of walks in only 4 1-3 innings.
Hernandez smacked McDonald's 90th and final pitch, an up-and-in fastball, into the upper deck in left for his grand slam. Both of the catcher's homers this season have turned games. He had a two-out, three-run homer in the bottom of the ninth inning for a 7-6 win over Milwaukee on opening day.
With one out and the Reds up 3-2, Hernandez was looking for a pitch he could hit into the outfield for a sacrifice fly. He got one he could hit a lot farther.
"I was trying to hit the ball in the air," Hernandez said. "I guess I got lucky. I got a pitch over the plate and handled it pretty good."
Mike Leake (2-0) was a little off with his control in an unexpected start. He filled in for Edinson Volquez, who was pushed back a day because of a stiff neck. Leake gave up four hits and walked four in six innings.
Gomes hit a solo homer in the second and a two-run shot in the sixth off Joe Beimel, the ninth multihomer game of his career. Gomes leads the Reds with five homers and 15 walks.
National League MVP Joey Votto had a triple among his three hits, raising his average to .451.
Stubbs' two-run shot off Michael Crotta completed the seven-run rally in the fifth inning and marked the first homer allowed by the Pirates' bullpen this season. Pittsburgh and Philadelphia had the only bullpens in the majors that hadn't given up a homer.
Hurdle went with essentially the same lineup that won the series opener 6-1 on Friday night. It failed to get much out of its best chance against Leake, who needed 102 pitches to get through six innings. Pittsburgh got three walks and a single in the fourth, all with one out, but managed only a pair of runs.
NOTES: In his first appearance since being called up from the minors, Beimel gave up two hits and two runs in one inning. ... Reds 2B Brandon Phillips got a second straight day to rest his sore groin. He might play on Sunday. ... RH Johnny Cueto made his first rehab assignment start while recovering from a tight shoulder, going 3 1-3 innings for Triple-A Louisville. He gave up two hits and two runs, throwing 55 pitches. ... 3B Juan Francisco twisted his left leg while completing his swing for a single in the eighth, then limped to first base. He left the game with a cramp in his calf.