By Hal McCoy
CINCINNATI — Jay Bruce said it was no time to think big, “Just think small.”
And by thinking small, what he did turned out big — a game-ending triple to the right field corner in the bottom of the ninth that scored Brandon Phillips from first base to provide the Cincinnati Reds with a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.
The Reds are 5-and-1 and in first place and giddy.
The Pittsburgh pitcher facing Bruce in the ninth owns a name that is almost as difficult to spell and pronounce as he is to hit — Arquimedes Caminero.
“I know he throws really, really hard, but he didn’t throw me a lot of fastballs,” said Bruce, who turned on a 2-and-2 pitch. Honestly, I was telling myself to think small, that I didn’t need to do a whole lot. You can’t get big there because he throws so hard.
“With two strikes, it is time to just make contact because he has really, really good stuff,” Bruce added. “He has a 94 miles an hour cutter that is really a slider and he a split-finger that’s 90 and a fastball that’s 100. You have to respect that and take what he gives you and it worked out.”
AND WHAT DID Caminero give him? The 94 mile an hour slider/cutter. Bruce laughed and said, “I think he broke my bat but this time that’s fine with me.”
Bruce had two hits and his batting average is .391, indicating that he may be this year’s Renaissance Man.
“It seems like he is liberated and he is really enjoying himself,” said manager Bryan Price. “I couldn’t be happier for him because it was a hard two years for him, a hard two years for all of us because of the losses. It wasn’t harder for anyone more than Jay because he was trying to do so much to help the club.
TIM MELVILLE MADE his major-league debut on the mound for the Reds and his first warm-pitch banged off the backstop and his second warm-up pitch skittered in the dirt in front of home plate.
Was Melville nervous in his major-league debut? Is peanut butter sticky? Do Krispy Kremes and Starbucks go together? Does Donald Trump have a permanent bad-hair day?
Melville walked the first two Pittsburgh Pirates he faced Sunday afternoon and walked three in the first inning. Nobody scored.
It reminded Price of Mike Leake’s major league debut. He walked the first three Cubs hitters he faced but nobody scored. “Remember that?” said Price. “I wonder who that pitching coach was who went out and settled Leake down?” Price, of course, was the Reds pitching coach at the time.
THE PIRATES PUT TWO on in the fourth. Nobody scored.
Melville pitched four innings, 92 pitches worth, and he put nine men on base. Only one scored and that was a solo home run in the second by catcher Chris Stewart, his first home run since 2013.
When the game ended and the Pirates had stranded 14 runners, giving them 34 stranded during the three-game series, a Pirates employee was so angry he lost his car keys and left his jacket in the press box. “Just terrible at bats, so many bad at bats,” he said.
OF HIS PERFORMANCE, Melville said, “Yeah, a lot of nerves and butterflies. This is one of those moments when it is not a dream any more. It is real life. I’m ready to move forward after this first one.”
Melville was told of Leake’s three-walk debut against the Chicago Cubs and he said, “Wow. It happens to the best of them. I’m not saying it’s OK. You have to throw strikes. After I walked the first two I just told myself to get back to my game plan, strike one, focus in on the next pitch instead of dwelling on the last walk.”
That 1-0 deficit stayed at 1-0 until Eugenio Suarez led the sixth inning with an opposite field home run, his fourth home run in six games, to tie it, 1-1.
REDS GENERAL MANAGER Walt Jockey may have made the steal of the century when he acquired Suarez from Detroit last July for pitcher Alfredo Simon. And now that Simon is back with Cincinnati, the Reds basically got Suarez for nothing.
And what a find. He has moved from shortstop to third base and is not only hitting home runs but batting for a high average (.435 with three hits Sunday) and drawings walks.
“Remember after we started playing him at shortstop last year when he had a series of games where he was throwing a lot balls away?” said Price. “I knew that beat him up a lot because he is a sure-handed guy with an accurate throwing arm. He got through that and that showed me he was mentally tough. He hit, but that period on defense was the biggest challenge he had last year and he worked through it.
“Seeing him transition to third base (from shortstop) this spring so comfortably gave me the confidence that he has it, he has the ‘it’ factor — the ability to change positions and play it flawlessly and his hitting is just getting better and better.”
Said Suarerz, “I am not surprised that I am hitting, but I am surprised by the home runs. But my body feels strong. All I care about is helping the team. That’s why I didn’t care about moving to third base. I knew it would help the team.”
PRICE, OF COURSE, is enamored over everything he is seeing from the 24-year-old Venezuelan.
“That home run to right field? Wasn’t that something to see?” said Price. “I’m admiring that he’ll drive the ball that way, but the pitches he has laid off is special. Have you noticed the pitches that he is laying off? He isn’t taking big, free swings at pitches outside the zone. If you make a good pitch tight on him he is not going to swing and try to force the action. That’s what happens when hitters are really feeling good. They allow themselves to wait for a good pitch to hit to be presented to them.”
The bullpen, again, presented itself stylistically, too. After Melville left, Dan Straily made his Reds debut with three hitless innings (one walk, three strikeouts), Jumbo Diaz furnished a scoreless inning and Ross Ohlendorf recorded his second win with a scoreless ninth inning despite giving up two hits.