While the Pirates may have lost two games in a row going into Wednesday's contest against the division-rival Reds, they have to be pleased with the way their outfielders have performed at the plate over the last five games.
It was just over a week ago that heralded prospect Gregory Polanco joined reigning National League Most Valuable Player Andrew McCutchen and budding star Starling Marte at the top of Pittsburgh's lineup. Since then, the trio has gone 30-for-73 (.411) with 13 RBIs and 16 runs scored.
Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said Polanco's arrival has raised the game of the other two -- particularly McCutchen, who was named the NL Player of the Week on Monday after hitting .483 with four home runs and 13 RBIs.
"I know the young man [Polanco] looks up to both of those other guys, and they've seen something in him that kinda gets their attention," Hurdle said. "Since he's shown up, the things he's been able to do ... see play out at this level -- [it] gives everyone that jolt of confidence."
Pittsburgh hopes the trio will help the club get back on track against Alfredo Simon and the Reds on Wednesday. Simon has pitched well against the Bucs, going into the start with a 2.57 career ERA against Pittsburgh in 15 appearances (one start).
While Cincinnati is hoping for another solid performance from Simon, what manager Bryan Price is really looking for is more consistency from a group that is finally healthy following several key injuries early in the season -- including DL stints for Joey Votto, Jay Bruce and Mat Latos.
Price is happy that he can fill out a consistent lineup going forward.
"We're not running out a bunch of different lineups out there," Price said. "This doesn't mean, of course, that there will never be another change in the lineup. And I think there is something to be said about knowing what is expected from you and knowing when you're going to be in there and when you're not. It's nice."
The Reds are hoping the lineup consistency will lead to more offense so they can get back into the thick of the NL Central race. They currently rank second-to-last in the Majors with 252 runs scored this season.
Cincinnati is scheduled to face former Reds starter Edinson Volquez, who is coming off his best outing of the season on Thursday vs. the Cubs. The right-hander tossed seven scoreless innings while allowing seven hits and two walks with five strikeouts. He is 1-1 with a 3.55 ERA (10 earned runs in 25 1/3 innings pitched) in four career starts against Cincinnati.
Reds: Frazier producing from second spot in the order
Todd Frazier has batted in the fifth spot of the order for most of the season (28 games), but he's also seen a significant amount of at-bats in the second spot -- including Tuesday's 6-5 win over the Pirates, in which he hit a go-ahead homer in the ninth against Bucs closer Jason Grilli.
Frazier is batting .269 (18-for-67) with seven home runs and 14 RBIs in 17 games as the No. 2 hitter in the lineup. Price likes what Frazier brings to that spot, particularly when he's on a roll at the plate, as he's been as of late.
"What Todd has done so well is he's seen more pitches, and he's taking pitches to let Billy Hamilton run," Price said Tuesday. "I think we're seeing a more disciplined hitter, a guy who has done more damage, and I don't know if it's so much hitting second or if his hitting plan has matured."
Pirates: Polanco matches Clemente
With a single to center in the third inning on Tuesday, Polanco extended his career-opening hitting streak to seven games. That matched the longest such streak in franchise history, and Polanco is the first to achieve the feat since Roberto Clemente hit safely in seven consecutive games to begin his career in 1955.
"Yes, I was told about that. That makes me very proud," Polanco said before the game, after he had also become the first player since Clemente to hit safely in his first six games by going 9-for-17 in Miami over the weekend.
"I'm getting more confident, and after a few games like [the ones in Miami], I feel less pressure."
• Bruce is a 5-for-10 with a double, a homer and two RBIs in his career against Volquez.
• Marte and McCutchen have both had success in their careers against Simon. Marte is 4-for-10, while McCutchen is 4-for-13 (.308) with a home run against the right-hander.
Manny Randhawa is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.