By HAL McCOY
When Jim Bowden was general manager of the Cincinnati Reds, he had a sign hanging on the wall behind his desk that read in large block letters, “Pitching, Pitching, Pitching.”
Anybody who doesn’t believe the importance of pitching in baseball need only check what the Reds did before the All-Star break and what they have done since.
It has been a complete tight and quick U-turn.
BEFORE THE BREAK, THE Reds had the worst pitching in baseball — the highest earned run average for the starting staff and the highest earned run average for the bullpen.
What a difference right now makes.
Both the rotation and the bullpen have done a 180-degree turnaround over the 13 games since the All-Star game and the Reds have won nine, almost all due to the resuscitated pitching staff.
THE LATEST EXAMPLE OCCURRED Friday night when Brandon Finnegan, Michael Lorenzen and Blake Wood combined for a six-hit shutout of the San Diego Padres, 6-0.
In the process, the Reds stopped a streak during which the Padres had hit at least one home run in 25 straight games. In this game they couldn’t even score a run.
The Reds gave Finnegan a 4-0 lead against left hander Edwin Jackson, pitching for his 11th major league team, before Finnegan had to throw a pitch.
With one out in the top of the first on a gorgeous night in Petco Park, Zack Cozart tripled, Joey Votto walked, Jay Bruce hit a sacrifie fly, Brandon Phillips extended his hitting streak to 16 games with a run-scoring single and Eugenio Suarez doubled for two more and a 4-0 lead
FINNEIGAN, THOUGH, WOBBLED in the first as he struggled with command and control, a problem he has encountered most of the season.
He gave up two walks and a single to load the bases and escaped problems when Derek Norris lined hard to third baseman Eugenio Suarez to end the inning.
From there Finnegan righted himself and gave up only three hits and one more walk over the next five innings. He pitched six innings and gave up no runs, four hits, walked three and struck out five.
The Reds put runners on base in every inning, but only scored one more time after the four-run first. That came on a two-run single by Suarez in the fifth, giving the ever-improving third baseman four RBI for the game.
MICHAEL LORENZEN FOLLOWED Finnegan and struck out the first four batters he faced on his way to two scoreless one-hit innings. Blake Wood finished it in the ninth, giving up one hit.
The Reds turned four double plays to aid and abet the solid pitching. Catcher-turned-outfielder Christian Bethancourt hit into two of them. He came into the game in the first inning when left fielder Alex Dickerson had to leave the game in the first after colliding with center fielder Travis Jankowski chasing Cozart’s triple.
OFFENSIVELY, CINCINNATI’S BATS have stepped it up right in step with the pitching staff’s rejuvenation.
Jay Bruce’s streak of home runs in five straight games, tying a club record, came to a halt and he didn’t have a hit. But his sacrifice fly gave him 80 RBI, tops in the National League.
It is not yet August, but Bruce has 25 home runs and 80 RBI. For his career, he has averaged 25.9 home runs a season and 79.7 RBI.
Rumors still abound that Bruce will be traded by Monday’s deadline, with talk emanating from Seattle and the Los Angeles Dodgers.
BRANDON PHILLIPS HAD three hits and scored two runs while extending his hitting streak to 16 games. Joey Votto had a walk and a single that pushed his hitting streak to 13 games, lifting his batting average to .282 after struggling at the .200 level the first two months of the season.
Zack Cozart had two hits to extend his hitting streak to nine games and Billy Hamilton had a hit and stole his 35th base.
Adam Duvall had contributed two hits to the Reds’ 11-hit attack.
It was the 12th time this season the Padres have been shut out and it was the third time Reds pitchers have combined for a shutout.
Anthony DeSclafani, 6-and-0 this season, goes after his seventh victory Saturday night in Petco Park.