By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — So far in his brief career, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Brandon Finnegan can be best described this way: ‘On Again, Off Again, Finnegan.’
On Thursday afternoon in Great American Ball Park, Finnegan was on his best behavior against the St. Louis Cardinals. The 22-year-old left hander from Fort Worth, Tex., gave it all he was worth on a scorchingly hot day to beat the Cardinals, 7-0.
His work sheet was practically perfect — six innings, no runs, two hits, no walks, four strikeouts, 79 pitches.
So why was he removed while pitching a two-hit shutout with a seven-run lead and only 79 pitches?
“He was throwing good, but they hit three balls hard on the barrel his last inning,” said manager Bryan Price. “You talk about innings and number of pitches, but sometimes things have to pass the smell test. After six, on a hot day, with a kid starting to stockpile innings, I thought he was done. Mack Jenkins (pitching coach) and I decided he was done. He had done his job and done it well and the bullpen was fresh.”
FINNEGAN HAS BEEN KNOWN to lose sight of home plate and issue walks. Not on this day. Heading into the fifth inning only one Cardinal had reached base.
Tommy Pfam led the game with an infield hit, then Finnegan retired 13 in a row until Jhonny Peralta singled with a one-out single in the fifth.
Finnegan improved his record to 7-and-8 with a 4.45 earned run average and the best news was that he had supreme command of all his pitches, which he kept down in the zone, and didn’t walk anybody after walking 59 in his first 21 starts this season over 117 1/3 innings.
“You look at the board and walks have really been a nemesis for him,” said Price. “Walks and getting balls in the air (for home runs), especially in Cincinnati. Today it was down in the zone with three quality pitches.
“He had an ability to make good pitches today, especially when he was behind in the count,” said Price. “He had the best slider I’ve seen since he’s been here. He had everything working and found a way to make it work.”
FINNEGAN WASN’T OVERLY IMPRESSED with his personal accomplishment.
“We played good defense and we hit well,” he said, turning the spotlight away from himself. “I didn’t have my best stuff, but I was commanding the ball well. When you don’t have your best stuff, that’s the key. They hit some balls hard, but we had some guys out there to catch them. Without the defense, I did pretty bad today.”
But he didn’t walk anybody or give up any home runs.
“My big thing is to throw strikes,” he said. “I did that and they hit balls to our position players. I could have gone longere, but I know they are watching my innings. And we took a big lead in the sixth.”
FINNEGAN WAS MATCHED AGAINST Mike Leake, one of the pitchers Finnegan replaced in the Reds rotation when Leake was traded by the Reds to San Francisco and Finnegan was acquired from Kansas City in the Johnny Cueto deal.
Finnegan’s battery mate, catcher Ramon Cabrera, gave him a 2-0 lead in the second inning with a two-run single over the first base bag. The hit scored Brandon Phillips, who had singled, and Scott Schebler, who had doubled. Cabrera drove in three runs on the day with a pair of singles.
The Reds made it 3-0 in the fourth when Phillips doubled to right, moved to third on Schebler’s grounder and scored on Eugenio Suarezs sacrifice fly to right.
The Reds rid themselves of Leake in the sixth with a four-run eruption. He walked Adam Duvall on a full count to open the inning and he scored on a double by Phillips, his third straight hit of the day. Phillips stole third, Schebler was hit by a pitch and Suarez drilled a run-scoring single to left to push the Reds lead to 5-0 and send Leake to the air conditioned clubhouse. Cabrera ended the uprising with another RBI single.
“I just try to put the ball in play and hit it hard,” said the Reds backup catcher who plays once a week. And of his handling of Finnegan, he said, “We talked before the game and had a good plan and he executed it. I kept after him. After every inning I’d say, ‘OK, OK, you’re doiing good. Just stay positive,’ and he did a great job. Everything was working good — fastball, slider and change-up. He threw all three pitches inside and outside.”
OF CABRERA, PRICE SAID, “He was terrific. He called a nice ballgame and worked well with Finnegan. He swung the bat well with two big hits. That’s tough playing one out every three to five games. It takes a special person to swing the bat like that, especially against a pitcher like Mike Leake.”
Raisel Iglesias (two innings, three hits),Jumbo Diaz (one-third of an inning, no hits) and Tony Cingrani (two-thirds of an inning, no hits) completed the Reds fourth shutout of the season.
THE REDS WON TWO OF three on this one-team homestand and have won six series in a row since the All-Star break, all six by two games to one and they are 12-and-6 since the All-Star break.
It has been since 1991 that any Reds team won six series in a row and Price said, “I did not know that. That’s great. That’s all those guys in the cllubhouse. These area situations where you can see teams phone it in a little bit. This group hasn’t. They’re led by the veterans with their abilities willingness to play hard.”
The only downer of the day for the Reds is that Joey Votto’s 17-game hitting streak ended. He was 0 for 4 and twice called out on strikes by umpire Adam Hamari.
The Reds next nine games are on the road, three each in Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Milwaukee, beginning Friday night at PNC Park against the Pirates.