PITTSBURGH -- One mistake. One pitch. A little too high, getting a little too much of the plate. These days, that's all that is needed to hand the Pirates one more defeat.
"That one slider … if I could only have it back," Brandon Cumpton said at the end of a bright Thursday afternoon that was still drab due to the 2-1 defeat against the Reds.
In the finale of an eight-game homestand, the Bucs again exceeded their small margin for error, and it was enough to spoil Cumpton's season debut, which was as brilliant as the early-afternoon sunshine showering PNC Park, until he held open the door the Reds kicked in.
"A really strong effort," Clint Hurdle said of Cumpton's seven-inning turn. "The entire start was strong. There's one reason he's effective, and it's because he works the pitch in. And a couple of them got more in than he wanted. Then one ball caught a little too much of the plate."
That's the ball Ryan Ludwick lined for a two-out double in the sixth to score two runners who had reached base by getting hit by Cumpton pitches.
"I felt great, got out of the gate pretty hot. Then I let a couple of pitches get away from me in that sixth inning," Cumpton said. "But that's going to happen -- I pitch in a lot. Unfortunately, it came back to haunt me today."
For the key hit to be delivered by Ludwick -- who had also been hit by Cumpton back in the second inning -- seemed to make Cincinnati manager Bryan Price's day.
"We were starting to get a little irritated, because we had three hit batters in the game," Price said. "A couple of our guys got squared up pretty good. I don't think there was any intent to it, but the fact that his two-run double followed the third hit-by-pitch had a little bit more sweetness to it, for sure. It was a big, big hit."
It sent the Bucs to their third loss in the four-game series with the Reds. The homestand had begun with a similar series loss to Milwaukee.
With all their other hiccups, the Bucs could do without a reversal of the four-game series karma they had going last season. Pittsburgh dropped the opener of five consecutive sets of that duration and bounced back to win the next three each time.
In the homestand, the Pirates won openers against both the Brewers and the Reds, only to drop the three others.
Cumpton had arrived from Triple-A Indianapolis to step into the injured Wandy Rodriguez's rotation slot with an active Major League streak of 15 scoreless innings. The streak, dating back to his start in the nightcap of the July 30 doubleheader at PNC Park against the Cardinals, ended at 20 2/3 innings as Cumpton gave up Ludwick's sixth-inning double.
Cumpton set the table, hitting leadoff batter Joey Votto with an 0-and-2 pitch, and with two outs, also got Todd Frazier with an 0-and-1 offering. Ludwick then pounced with a double up the left-center alley.
Those gave Cumpton three hit batters, compared to the four hits he surrendered in seven innings, in which he walked one and fanned five.
Hurdle immediately confirmed that Cumpton would remain in the rotation for another start, which will come Wednesday in Baltimore. The skipper loved everything about the outing -- first-pitch strikes to 20 of 28 batters, 15 outs on three pitches or fewer -- except the outcome.
"He pitched in, with conviction," Hurdle said. "He used his changeup to both sides of the plate, the slider played right-on-right. He's committed to pitching in and a couple got in too much … but you can't have it both ways."
The Pirates had gotten in an early lick against left-hander Tony Cingrani and kept pressing him for most of his six-inning stint. But none of the jabs were followed up with upper cuts.
Dropped out of the cleanup spot for the first time this season, Pedro Alvarez was in the right spot to put the first run on the scoreboard. With two on and two outs in the first, he hit a smash off second baseman Brandon Phillips' glove and was credited with an RBI single to give the Bucs a 1-0 lead. That was Alvarez's 14th RBI of the season, but only the fourth not produced by a home run.
In the third and sixth innings, the Bucs put two of the first three men on base against Cingrani and could not advance them on either occasion.
In the third, after Neil Walker led off with a single and Andrew McCutchen followed with his 20th walk, a Gaby Sanchez popup, Alvarez's strikeout and a Jose Tabata popup pulled the plug.
In the sixth, singles by Sanchez and Tabata around a strikeout of Alvarez had the Pirates poised for a quick response to the Reds' runs in the top of the inning. However, Jordy Mercer's foul pop and Chris Stewart's fly out ended another threat.
There were no such missed opportunities against the Reds' bullpen, because there were no opportunities. Logan Ondrusek, Sam LeCure and Jonathan Broxton -- nailing his fourth save, and second in 17 hours -- blanked the Bucs on one hit across the final three innings.
Tom Singer is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog Change for a Nickel. He can also be found on Twitter @Tom_Singer. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.