By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — The elephants are no longer performing for the Ringling Brothrs Barnum & Bailey circus, but there are still elephants in the room with the Cincinnati Reds.
It is the bullpen, or what stands for one. The ineptitude is mind-boggling and it won’t surprise anybody that the Reds bullpen tied a modern-day all-time record Monday night when it gave up runs for the 20th consecutive game.
That matches the record set by the 2013 Colorado Rockies. When the bullpen began its work Monday night, the Reds led by three runs. When the game was over, when the bullpen gave up six runs and eights hits over three innings, the Reds were 9-6 losers.
THIS WAS SUPPOSED TO BE the night when Johnny came marching home. And he did march in, but he quickly marched out, too. When Johnny Brent Cueto Ortiz, also known as Johnny Beisbol, walked to the Great American Ball Park mound Monday night, fans behind the Reds dugout extended him long and loud applause, louder than he ever received when he wore Reds red and white.
The fans appreciate what Cueto did for them for the eight years he was here and acknowledged him fondly, even though he now wears the orange and black of the San Francisco Giants.
And now he doesn’t do it for the Reds, he does it to the Reds — well, he tried to do it. The Reds undid him and then, of course, the Reds bullpen undid everything.
CUETO FIRST HAD a two-run single in the second inning as the Giants scored three times off Brandon Finnegan to give Cueto to a 3-0 lead.
But the Reds scored six in the third and it appeared Billy Hamilton on second base was a major distraction to Cueto He threw or faked throws to second base over and over and over.
In between throws and make-believe throws, Cueto threw a 3-and-2 pitch to Joey Votto that came down 418 feet from home plate, a three-run rip that pushed the Reds to a 6-3 lead.
“I definitely think I got into his head,” said Hamilton. “He was missing a little bit at the plate (he walked Ivan DeJesus Jr. before Votto’s home run) and I think I had a lot to do with it. I don’t take credit for what happened, but my job is to do stuff out there and the results happen.”
VOTTO AND CUETO both arrived to stay with the Reds in 2008 and Vote remembers a discussion about that with Cueto.
“It was really fun playing with the guy, not only as a man, but he is such a great player, such a great competitor,” said Votto. “I remember the day, Opening Day of 2008, we got to the big leagues and we had a little chat about what we were going to do in the big leagues. It came to fruition.”
Votto has never faced Cueto’s funky, offbeat delivery, not even in spring training. So Monday night was a first-time experience.
“I found that some guys get thrown off by Cueto’s delivery,” said Votto. “And some guys it doesn’t bother at all and they have had some good results on those same trick pitches. I’ve played against lots of guys with a lot of different tricks and it hasn’t really bothered me so far. We’ll see.”
OK, WHAT WAS SEEN in the first inning was Cueto striking out Votto. What was seen in the second inning was Cueto poking a two-run dribbler of a single between first and second to help give himself a 3-0 lead.
What was seen in the third was Votto trashing a 3-and-2 pitch over the center field wall for a three-run home run an a 4-3 Reds lead. The Reds sent 11 batters to the plate and scored six runs off Cueto.
It appears Votto prefers not to struggle rather than quit after saying the other day, “I’d rather quite than struggle.”
BUT THE 6-3 LEAD disappeared immediately after manager Bryan Price took down starter Brandon Finnegan after six innings because of a tight hamstring.
“He had some hamstring discomfort after the second or third inning but we were more aggressive with him than normally because of our shortage of bullpen pieces for the night,” said Price. “So he threw three more innings.”
J.C. Ramirez started the seventh and after recording a strikeout he gave up three singles and a double to close the Reds’ lead to 6-5. Drew Hayes then came on and the first batter he faced, Brandon Crawford, blasted a three-run home run and it was bye-bye ballgame. Again.
“We have to get some guys on a roll out of the bullpen,” said Price. “If everybody throws to their ability then it is easier to slot guys into roles. Right now we’re just going with the freshest arms because we’ve had a lot of work out of our bullpen It has just been hard getting a recipe.
“We’re banged up and we’re bring some guys up (from the minors) who may not be ready,” Price added. “They are pitching out of roles and we just have to get healthy. We don’t want guys to be here if they’re not ready, but sometimes the impetus is that with all the injuries we do have some guys here who are not ready to pitch at this level consistently.”