Thursday's finale against the Cubs may have put a slight damper on the series, but the Reds' four-out-of-five showing against Chicago came at exactly the right time.
Cincinnati entered last Sunday's series finale against the Brewers seven games back in the National League Central. But after taking the first four games of their series with the Cubs, the Reds are just 2 1/2 games behind Milwaukee as they head into their three-game set with division-rival Pittsburgh.
The Reds have had success against the Pirates this season, winning seven out of 10 meetings so far, including two of three at Great American Ball Park from April 14-16.
Looking to continue that trend, the Reds will hand the ball off to Mat Latos in Cincinnati on Friday night. The right-hander is 5-1 with a 2.96 ERA in 11 career starts against Pittsburgh. In his last outing, Latos allowed two runs on four hits over eight innings in a 4-2 win over Milwaukee. He's allowed two runs or fewer in four of his five starts this season, and over his last three outings, he's 2-1 with a 1.64 ERA.
The Pirates, who continue to stay within striking distance of the top teams in the NL Central, will send Jeff Locke to the mound to kick off the last series before the All-Star break. In his second full season, Locke has done well to cut down on walks and pitch deeper into games.
Entering his June 13 start against the Marlins, Locke had never made it past the seventh inning. But in four of his last five starts since, the left-hander has pitched into the eighth while posting a 2.41 ERA over that span. He's averaging less than a walk per start (he's issued just six in seven outings this year) after leading the NL last season with 84 walks in his 30 starts.
In his last start, Locke induced fifteen ground-ball outs, as he threw eight innings of one-run ball in a win against the Phillies.
"Jeff's pace and rhythm has been as consistent as anything he's done," Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said.
Hurdle said the key to the ground balls was that Locke threw his fastball and changeup on a downhill angle, and the Pirates manager noted that Locke threw his curveball just four times Sunday.
"When you got something working, there's no real reason to change it," said Locke. "You don't want to overthink and say, 'Maybe I should throw more curveballs today.' … You start doing things like that, people will recognize what you're doing to them."
Pirates: Bucs recall Decker, option Cumpton
The Pirates recalled outfielder Jaff Decker from Triple-A Indianapolis on Thursday and optioned right-handed pitcher Brandon Cumpton to Indianapolis. Decker joined Pittsburgh for a three-game stint in May, and he has batted .266 (63-for-237) with 26 extra-base hits and 29 RBIs for Indianapolis this season.
Decker, who is ranked No. 19 among Pirates prospects, went hitless in three at-bats for the Bucs earlier this season, and he batted .154 (4-for-26) in a brief audition for the Padres last year. Decker has hit .268 with a .399 on-base percentage for his Minor League career, and he's a .278 career hitter at the Triple-A level.
Cumpton has gone 3-3 with a 4.98 ERA in 10 starts for the Pirates this season. The 25-year-old right-hander has also made seven starts for Indianapolis, logging a 4-1 record and a 1.76 ERA.
Reds: Phillips out for six weeks
Brandon Phillips has a torn ligament in his left thumb and will undergo surgery on Friday. He will be out approximately six weeks.
Phillips bent his thumb on his glove hand backwards when the glove got stuck in the grass as he tried to make a diving grab of an Anthony Rizzo grounder in the eighth inning on Wednesday.
"It's a big blow," manager Bryan Price said after Thursday's 6-4, 12-inning loss to the Cubs. "He's a great two-way player, and he's been really consistent for us offensively. He's sat in the middle of the order, mostly No. 3 and 4 most of the year. And he's been spectacular defensively. So definitely a blow, but we'll weather it."
• The Reds are 9-2-1 in their last 12 series.
• Reds infielder Jack Hannahan continued his rehab assignment with Class A Dayton on Wednesday. In two games as a designated hitter, Hannahan has gone 2-for-6 with a double and an RBI. He is recovering from right shoulder surgery last October.
Erik Bacharach is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.