By Hal McCoy
The Cincinnati Reds bullpen has absorbed the brunt of the criticism for its early-season performances, and rightfully so.
But some of it needs to be aimed at the offense, too, the one segment of the team that nobody expected to flounder with a batting order spiced with Joey Votto, Zack Cozart, Jay Bruce, Eugenio Suarez and Brandon Phillips.
Yet flounder it has, like the fish of the same name, especially recently during the team’s ever-expanding losing streak, now at six straight after Saturday night’s 5-1 defeat to the Pittsburgh Pirates.
During the six-game slide for life, the Reds have not scored more than three runs in any of those losses and have scored a total of 10 during those six losses. And their road record for the season is 1-and-10.
THE MISERY SATURDAY night began on the first pitch Reds starter Alfredo Simon threw. Pittsburgh first baseman John Jaso. He hit Simon’s first pitch into the stands for a home run.
Simon went only four innings and needed 97 pitches to get that far, giving up three runs, six hits, four walks and he hit a batter.
On the other side, Pittsburgh starter Francisco Liriano went 6 2/3 innings and gave up one run, five hits, walked none and struck out six.
THE REDS SCORED their one run off him in the fifth when Billy Hamilton singled for one of his three hits, half of the Reds total of six hits, and he scored from first base on Zack Cozart’s double to left field.
Shortstop Jordy Mercer had the ball when Hamilton hit third, but Hamilton beat Marte’s throw with a head first slide.
The tie lasted only until the Pirates came to bat in the bottom of the fifth and scored two runs for a 3-1 lead.
David Freese singled and Marte was hit by a pitch. Francisco Cervelli singled to make it 2-1 and Cincinnati native Josh Harrison hit a sacrifice fly against Reds relief pitcher J.C. Ramirez.
THAT’S THE WAY it stayed until the Pittsburgh eighth against Caleb Cotham. He gave up a leadoff single to pinch-hitter Matt Joyce. That brought up first baseman Sean Rodriguez, a late-game defensive replacement for Jaso, who hit the first-inning home run.
Rodriguez did the same thing as Jaso, a home run that gave the Pirates a 5-1 lead that stood the test, Pittsburgh’s sixth straight victory.
The Reds lead the league in home runs served up and the starters and the bullpen are equal opportunists. The starters have given up 23 and the bullpen has given up 20.
The Reds were 0 for 4 with runners in scoring position and stranded nine, including two in the ninth when Zack Cozart struck out to end the game. For the second straight night, Pittsburgh closer Mark Melancon arrived in the ninth with two outs to record one-batter saves.
Adding to the misery loves company theme, Sunday’s scheduled starter, Raisel Iglesias, is back in Cincinnati having his sore shoulder checked and his stand-in will be Tim Adleman, called up from Class AAA Louisville, another guy making his major league debut.
And catcher Devin Mesoraco is also taking treatment for a sore shoulder.