PITTSBURGH -- Although Devin Mesoraco is riding a career-best 10-game hitting streak entering Tuesday, backup catcher Brayan Pena started behind the plate with Johnny Cueto pitching for the Reds against the Pirates.
Pena worked very well with Cueto in his previous start on Thursday, which was a three-hit complete-game shutout over Pittsburgh.
"And he needs to play, too," manager Bryan Price said of Pena, who entered the night batting .308 in 10 games. "We didn't bring him over here to catch one out of every 10 or 15 games. Devin is swinging the bat unbelievably well and doing a great job behind the plate. But we want him to be healthy and strong all year, and we want Brayan to also be sharp when we need him. The relationship between he and Johnny is good, but I'm not at all afraid to use Devin with Johnny either."
Hoover, Ondrusek among scuffling Reds relievers
PITTSBURGH -- Reds manager Bryan Price has been working with a short-handed bullpen all season because of various injuries. When one or more of the healthy relievers are struggling and one or two more aren't available for whatever reason, it really can strap a team in the middle and late innings.
Right now, J.J. Hoover and Logan Ondrusek are among those struggling as the bullpen entered Tuesday with a Major League worst 5.77 ERA.
In seven appearances, totaling 5 1/3 innings, Hoover has a 13.50 ERA with eight earned runs, seven hits and eight walks allowed. He walked three and gave up Neil Walker's bloop RBI single to end Monday's 6-5 walk-off loss vs. the Pirates. Walks were also an issue at Spring Training when he had seven in eight innings and a 5.63 ERA.
"From a mechanics standpoint, he's not exactly where he'd like to be or where we'd like him to be. I know he's working on it," Price said on Tuesday. "He's just not behind the ball consistently. He's got a lot of misses to the glove side or away to right-handed hitters, breaking balls that are just missing off the corner, away."
Ondrusek, who did not pitch on Monday, has an 11.25 ERA in four appearances, totaling four innings He gave up three runs and four hits over two-thirds of an inning during Saturday's 8-4 loss to the Cubs.
"In the end it's those bridge guys that help you, No. 1, not have to use [Sam] LeCure or [Manny] Parra all the time, to be able to spell [Jonathan] Broxton a day he might need off from closing and guys that have done those jobs before and picked up the slack for not having Alfredo Simon in our bullpen," Price said. "The importance of those guys being able to perform is significant."
Price did not rule out finding someone else to take Hoover's or Ondrusek's roles if their struggles continue, possibly Nick Christiani. At Triple-A Louisville, Jumbo Diaz has six scoreless appearances. But for now, the manager backed the pitchers he currently has in place.
"Logan and J.J. have been very accomplished pitchers with us here the last couple of years," Price said. "We know they're certainly capable of pitching better than they have. I'm very confident they will."
Hamilton OK after getting hit on right ankle
PITTSBURGH -- Getting on base is Billy Hamilton's top priority as the Reds' leadoff hitter. Reaching safely to start Monday's game, however, was painful. Francisco Liriano's very first pitch, a 93-mph fastball, nailed Hamilton on the right ankle.
"Right now, it still bothers me, but not as much to keep me out of the game," Hamilton said on Tuesday. "Last night, guys were asking me if it hurt. I was like 'Yeah,' but when you have that adrenaline in the game, you don't really feel it. But just sitting around it was bad. It's not going to affect my playing or anything."
It certainly didn't when Hamilton amazingly advanced from first base to third base on a routine groundball to Liriano hit by next batter Joey Votto .
"If you're on second base already and it's a ground ball to the pitcher, they're supposed to give you a look, but they're not expecting guys to go from first to third on a groundball like that," Hamilton said. "They don't pay attention to you. I took advantage of him not paying attention and not giving me a look. It's more instincts to not be afraid to make that play."
Hamilton said that he and manager Bryan Price discussed the need for him to be aggressive on the bases and reach third base with less than two outs. On Monday, he was able to score the game's first run on a fielder's choice grounder by Brandon Phillips.
"Our motto every single day from now is, 'If you go, we go.' Guys are always telling me that," Hamilton said. "With that motto, my job is to get on and get over."
Latos waiting to be cleared to throw
PITTSBURGH -- Not having pitched since an April 11 bullpen session was cut short by a strained flexor mass muscle in his right forearm, Reds starting pitcher Mat Latos has not been cleared to throw yet.
Reds manager Bryan Price said that Latos' arm has gotten better.
"He had to go through all that getting inflammation and soreness out of there," Price said on Tuesday. "There is still, I think, a little bit of tenderness in the area. It's really decreased but I think he's still a couple of days away from playing catch. We want him to have all the soreness and swelling out of there before he does anything with the elbow."
Prospect Lively turns in another impressive start
Another start, another dominant performance for right-hander Ben Lively. The Reds' No. 13 prospect struck out 10 batters in six scoreless innings Tuesday and Class A Advanced Bakersfield defeated Modesto, 4-0.
Lively hasn't allowed a run in 18 innings, a streak that dates back to April 6.
Tuesday, Lively allowed one hit and one walk, his first of the season. His 10 strikeouts matched the career high he established in his last start, when he struck out 10 batters in six scoreless innings at Stockton.
Through 23 innings in four starts, Lively has struck out 33 batters, allowed seven hits and one walk. His ERA -- which was already the best in the California League -- fell to 0.39 on Tuesday.
After Lively exited the game, right-handers Brooks Pinckard and Carlos Gonzalez combined to throw three scoreless innings to complete the Blaze's first shutout of the season.
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. Teddy Cahill is a reporter for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tedcahill. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.