By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — It was Studio Baseball in a steady drizzle Tuesday night in Great American Ball Park, a game played strictly for television and for the gratification of Tucker Barnhart and Anthony DeSclafani.
Why? Because little more than 3,000 fans actually passed through the turnstiles Tuesday to occupy seats after a few more than 4,800 actually showed up Monday night.
The game should have been promoted as ‘Guaranteed Foul Balls For Fans Night,’ because souvenirs were easy to nab.
THOSE WHO SHOWED UP, even those who didn’t grab a free baseball, were witness to the continued maturation of Cincinnati Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart, a back-up who seems intent upon winning the No. 1 job even when Devin Mesoraco returns next spring.
Barnhart crushed his first career grand slam home run in the first inning off Miami starter Jose Urena, extending his hitting strerak to 12 games and launching the Reds to a 6-3 victory over the Marlins.
The 25-year-old native of Brownsburg, Ind. voted the best defensive catcher in the entire minor leagues in 2011, also threw out base-thieving specialist Dee Gordon and guided Reds starter Anthony DeSclafani to his seventh victory.
THE REDS HAD LOST DeSclafani’s previous three starts in his quest for win No. 7, but he attained it Tuesday by holding the Marlins to two runs, seven hits, two walks and six strikeouts over six innings.
The 25-year-old right hander is 7-and-1 with a 3.10 earned run average. He was obtained from the Marlins by the Reds after the 2014 season as the Reds dumped problem-child Mat Latos on the Marlins.
DeSclafani had more problems on the basepaths than he did with the Marlins. He was on base in the fourth inning and twisted his ankle trying to get back to first base, but was doubled off. Manager Bryan Price permitted him to pitch the sixth, but then removed him after six, even though he had thrown only 89 pitches, 60 for strikes.
“We won’t be seeing him doing any baserunning videos any time soon,” said Price. “Yeah, we were concerned. But he was fine and wanted to compete. But after six we felt that was enough. It made sense to get him out of there. We’re banged up enough as it is. We don’t want to lose a starting pitcher because he does something different with his mechanics.”
BARNHART, THOUGH, HAD given DeSclafani a nice comfort zone with his grand slam.
“He (Urena) throws a lot of fastballs and I got ahead in the count and was looking for the heater,” said Barnhart of his grand slam as he plopped a dark blue U.S. Olympics hat on his head. “He got it a little in on me, but it was up and I got it in the air and it flew out.”
Of his 12-game hitting streak, which his manager was unaware of, Barnhart said, “I don’t hit (batting practice) nearly as much as I did earlier in the season or in years past. I give myself a mental break, really, and I’m not up there thinking as much as I used to. I get loose, take a little batting practice and go out there and hit. I’m just out there playing.”
Barnhart loved DeSclafani’s demeanor all night long, even after rolling his ankle and said, “Ho-hum, just another six innings and another quality start. That’s how he is. When in doubt, sinker in and it gets ground ball after ground ball. He pitched his butt off, like he usually does.”
EVEN THOUGH PRICE WAS not aware of Barnhart’s 12-game hitting streak, what Barnhart is contributing is not going unnoticed.
“What I’m seeing from Tucker is a bat you can trust,” said Price. “We can give him the green light on 3-and-0, I would hit-and-run with him, I would squeze with him because there are a lot of things with him that I trust.
“He has been terrific,” said Price. “The question coming up as a young player was if he could hit enough to play regularly. For me, what he is doing defensively is paramount for a guy playing regularly. And he is doing a lot of both (offense and defense) and he is a big part of our turnaround lately.”
THREE OF THE FIRST FIVE Marlins batting in the first inning collected hits off DeSclafani. Martin Prado’s double and Christian Yelich’s one-out double scored a run and DeSclafani ended the inning by striking out Ichiro Suzuki with two outs.
Urena retired the first two Reds in the bottom of the first before the bottm fell out. He gave up three straight singles to Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez and Scott Schebler to fill the bases.
Ivan DeJesus Jr. walked on a full count, forcing in a run to tie it, 1-1, then Barnhart unloaded his grand slam on a 1-and-0 pitch into the right field seats, his seventh home run of the season.
DeSclanfani balked in a run in the third and it stayed 5-2 until Votto’s sacrifice fly in the seventh made it 6-2.
Raisel Iglesias replaced DeSclafani in the seventh and walked the first batter, then struck out the side. He had one out in the eighth when Christian Yelich homered, cutting the Cincinnati lead to 6-3 on Yelich’s third hit of the night.
Due to injuries, the Reds lineup was a mix and match blend of plaids and stripes. Missing in action were Billy Hamilton (a body full of bruises), Adam Duvall (sore foot from a foul tip) and Brandon Phillips (sore knees).
Tony Renda batted leadoff and played left field, Ivan DeJesus Jr. batted sixth and played seocnd base and Tyler Holt batted eighth and played center field.
Scott Schebler emerged from an 0 for 28 hibernation with a home run in Monday’s 7-3 loss to the Marlins and came back Tuesday with three singles in his first three at bats.