McCoy: Winker stays hot, powers Reds past Pirates

When he began the season 1 for 22, some were calling him Rip Van Winkle. Now he is Rip ‘Em Winker.

Jesse Winker’s bat right now is a blow torch.

Winker homered his first two at bats Friday night in Great American Ball Park, driving in three runs that launched the Cincinnati Reds to an 8-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Early in the season, Winker spent most of his time slamming bats to the ground, jawing at umpires and stomping up and down the dugout after futiile at bats.

No more. Winker, batting clean-up Friday while slump-ridden Eugenio Suarez took a mental day off, ripped a solo home run leading off the second inning.

Joey Votto, leading off the fourth, took a two-strike pitch that looked llke a strike that umpire Dan Iassogna called a ball. Pittsburgh pitcher Chad Kuhl fumed on the mound.

Votto roped the next pitch for a double and Winker followed him with a two-run home run, Winker’s first career multiple-homer game.

At that point, since his 1 for 22 start, Winker was 17 for 28 (.607) and had homered in four of the last five games.

In his post-game interview, Winker was subdued, his demeanor soft and quiet.

“Even though it is a 60-game season, it is still a marathon,” he said. “I just want to go up there and grind out at bats. I try not to pay attention to results or what goes on externally.

“I just take care of how I prepare for the game, how I prepare on deck,” he added. “I have a bunch of great guys I learn from every day. I just try to go up there and compete.”

Meanwhile, Reds starter Sonny Gray was outstanding.

In the first six innings, he gave up one run, a home run to fellow Vanderbilt product Bryan Reynolds in the fourth.

Gray used up 99 pitches in the first six innings, mostly because he went to 3-and-2 eight times and struck out nine.

After the sixth, manager David Bell and Gray engaged in a long dugout discussion and Gray talked his way into returning for the seventh.

He retired the first two, including his 10th strikeout. But when Cole Tucker singled, Bell lifted him, even though the next batter was No. 9 in the lineup, Jacob Stallings, whom Gray had struck out twice.

Nate Jones gave up a rocket shot to left that Shogo Akiyama ran down at the fence after he made two spectacular snags Thursday night.

Gray was disturbed with his previous start, his only loss against four wins.

“I had to spend the week figuring how to throw harder,” he said. “I had a good week, a good work week. I had a good game plan, a good self-assessment game plan. The league is constantly making adjustments on you, so you have to constantly make adjustments on the league from outing-to-outing.”

Gray, of course, was most appreciative of the batwork support from Winker.

“It’s fun, man, he is so locked in,” said Gray. “It’s crazy. I remember when we were in Cleveland and he was struggling. I watched him on deck and he was super locked in.

“He had a real quality at bat, took a 3-and-2 walk and flips his bat and goes to first and I said, ‘He’s locked in. He’s locked. That dude is in a good spot right now.’

“And since then, let’s be honest, he has carried us,” said Gray.

The Reds gave the bullpen four more runs to work with in the seventh, highlighted by a three-run home run by Nick Castellanos. It was his eighth home run, second most in the majors.

Veteran relief pitcher Tyler Thornburg, called up before the game, made his Reds debut with an exclamaton point in the eighth — one, two, three with two strikeouts.

And he finished the game in the ninth with a double exclamation point — another one, two, three inning.