CINCINNATI -- Like an understudy waiting to get on the stage, or in this case, a mound, rookie Ramon Ramirez didn't know when or how his next chance would come. Ramirez had one successful spot start last weekend in place of an injured Johnny Cueto, but has mysteriously been left off the probable pitchers list since. Ramirez's second start seems more imminent now. While Ramirez didn't figure in the final decision, his three perfect innings of relief for an injured Josh Fogg held the Pirates in place while the Reds scratched out an 8-6, come-from-behind win on Thursday.
"I'm going to be ready anytime they need me here," Ramirez said in Spanish through interpreter/bullpen coach Juan Lopez. "I'm working hard. If they need me in the bullpen, I'm ready. If they need me to start, I'm going to be ready." Joey Votto's bases-loaded RBI single in a three-run eighth provided the go-ahead run that salvaged one win from the three-game series. It also stretched a 2 1/2-game distance from the cellar-dwelling Pirates in the National League Central. With Fogg on the mound, the Reds fell into a 5-0 hole after two innings. With two outs and a runner on second in the top of the second, Chris Gomez hit a two-run homer to left field. It was the light-hitting Gomez's first homer of the season. Fogg retired the side in order in the top of the third, and led off the bottom half with a double before taking third on a wild pitch. Two more sprints led to Fogg's early departure. He was sent back to third base after scampering home on a Jeff Keppinger fly that was ruled out of play. On the next pitch, Fogg pulled up lame after scoring on Keppinger's sacrifice fly to center field. Enter Ramirez, who emerged from the bullpen in the top of the fourth. He retired all nine of his batters and struck out two. Overall, the Reds pitching staff retired 16 straight Pirates following Gomez's homer. "He threw great, he threw excellent," Reds manager Dusty Baker said of Ramirez. "That's what you want -- a guy to come in and throw up zeroes and stop the scoring to give us a chance to come back. When you're in a deficit like that, you can't trade runs with them. I'm very impressed. He doesn't appear nervous rattled or scared. And he throws strikes." On Saturday vs. the Giants during his big league debut, Ramirez gave up three earned runs and five hits with two walks and six strikeouts for a seven-inning quality start. With Fogg possibly out of commission, having Ramirez pitch Thursday lines him up perfectly to likely take the veteran's rotation turn on Tuesday at Milwaukee. "That's why he was our first choice out of the bullpen," Baker said. "Fogg's groin situation is a dangerous situation for a pitcher. The way the kid is throwing, how do you not give him strong consideration?" Jay Bruce's second-inning homer and Fogg's run made it a three-run game. While Ramirez dealt zeroes, the Reds kept chipping away at Pittsburgh's lead. Keppinger hit an RBI double in the fourth and Votto hit a solo homer in the fifth. In the sixth, Brandon Phillips' RBI groundout to second base made it a 5-5 game. "All the guys together grinded it out and put some runs on the board," Votto said. "It gave us an opportunity late in the game to win it." In the top of the eighth, Nate McLouth hit a leadoff home run to right field off reliever Nick Masset (1-0). Aided by the wildness of an erratic Pirates bullpen, the Reds responded in the bottom of the eighth. Facing Craig Hansen (0-3) in the bottom of the eighth, Wilkin Castillo drew a leadoff walk before pinch-hitter Corey Patterson bunted towards the first-base line and beat out a single. Chris Dickerson's sacrifice put two runners in scoring position. A Hansen wild pitch to Keppinger scored Castillo with the tying run. Keppinger walked on four pitches and Brandon Phillips was hit by a T.J Beam pitch to load the bases. That was a golden opportunity for Votto, who lined a hard RBI single into right field. Edwin Encarnacion's sacrifice fly made it a two-run game. Francisco Cordero pitched a scoreless ninth for his 27th save. "They were gaining on us trying to get out of the cellar," Baker said of the Pirates. "We didn't start out too well and got down 5-0. But we slow-walked them with a lot of one's in consecutive innings until we got that crooked number in the eighth. "I'm tired after that game. We had to figure out how to stay in it, get back in it and then win it. What I like is we executed. We still left a lot of runners on base. But we kept battling, kept fighting."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.