The Pittsburgh Pirates are trying not to dig too deep a hole in the NL Central, but their continued mediocrity within the division isn't helping.
An unexpected team with one of the shovels is the Cincinnati Reds, who seek their third straight win over the visiting Pirates on Wednesday night.
After opening 8-3 within its own division, Pittsburgh (17-15) has lost six of eight. The 98-win Pirates went 34-42 against the Central last season, finishing two games behind St. Louis before falling to the Cubs in the wild-card game.
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So far this season, Pittsburgh has had a tough time handling Cincinnati (14-19), falling to 3-4 with Monday's 3-2 loss before Tuesday's game was postponed. After finishing this set Wednesday, the Pirates play three at Wrigley Field this weekend to close a 14-game run against the Central that they're 4-6 on.
Juan Nicasio (3-3, 4.02 ERA) shut out the Reds over seven innings of a 4-1 win April 29 but lasted only 4 1/3 in last Wednesday's 6-2 loss to Chicago, walking three and allowing nine hits and four runs.
''They have a good-hitting team and when I got to two strikes and threw my breaking ball they wouldn't swing at it,'' Nicasio said. ''Sometimes you don't have a good day.''
The right-hander hopes to return to the form he showed when he held the Reds to three hits while walking one and striking out eight, moving his scoreless-inning streak against them to 12.
However, his four appearances prior to that came in relief. As a starter against Cincinnati, Nicasio is 1-2 with a 4.24 ERA and 1.16 WHIP in four meetings.
Brandon Phillips has gone 5 for 11 with a homer, triple and double when facing Nicasio, while Joey Votto is 2 for 11 and Zack Cozart 0 for 8.
Nicasio is searching for his first win away from home. He's dropped both starts on the road with a 6.75 ERA and is 3-1 with a 3.09 ERA at home.
Alfredo Simon (1-3, 9.86) only had an ERA of 4.00 in two April starts against Pittsburgh, far better than the 13.50 mark he had overall in that month. However, he got off to a good start in May on Thursday, holding Milwaukee to three runs in 7 2/3 innings of a 9-5 win.
"April was tough. When I came from the Dominican, my arm was not really in shape to throw a lot of pitches," Simon, who signed March 17 and missed one April start because of right biceps tendinitis, told MLB's official website. "But now I feel comfortable. I had the tendinitis and my arm is feeling a lot better right now."
Simon's effort extended Cincinnati's season-high streak of quality starts to five. After Tim Adleman, Brandon Finnegan and John Lamb failed to reach the sixth, Dan Straily started a new streak with six sharp innings Monday.
The bullpen's MLB-record streak of 23 straight games surrendering a run finally ended in a four-inning performance in Friday's 5-1 win over Milwaukee. After giving up 12 runs over the next two games, baseball's worst bullpen held the Pirates to one hit in three scoreless innings Monday.