By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Sometimes it just works out that the littlest guy on the field does the biggest damage. Just ask pitchers who face Houston’s Jose Altuve, all 5-foot-5 of him.
But Altuve gets to play every day. Cincinnati Reds back-up catcher Ramon Cabrera, all 5-foot-7 of him (and that is literally a stretch on his height), is a part-timer and starts mostly when Dan Straily pitches.
Straily pitched Thursday night against the Miami Marlins, so Cabrera was behind the plate, making only his second start in 11 days.
BUT THE LITTLE GUY SWUNG the big bat against 12-game winner Jose Fernandez. Cabrera came to bat in the second inning with two on and ripped his first home run of the season, a blast over the right field wall in Great American Ball Park, his second career home run.
That gave Straily an early three-run lead and the Reds held on for a 5-4 victory, taking threee of four from the Marlins, damaging their pursuit of a National League wild card spot.
Cabrera, a 26-year-old Venzuelan, played seven years in the minors before getting a sniff of a major-league costume. He played 13 games (30 at bats) in his debut season with the Reds last year. But with the injury/surgery issues with No. 1 catcher Devin Mesoraco, Cabrera was called up to back-up Tucker Barnhart.
AFTER HIS HOME RUN, Cabrera lined out to short in the fourth and crushed one so fast and so hard off the right field wall in the sixth that he had to hold up at first with a long single. On his last at bat he lined hard to right field and Ichiro Suzuki made a diving catch.
“What was Cabrera officially (2 for 4)?” Straily asked after he pitched six innings and gave up two runs, six hits and struck out eight. “He was lacing balls, just lacing them all four times. I’m proud of the guys who don’t get a chance to play every day and they get in there and have a lot of success.”
Straily gets to pitch every fifth day right now but near the end of spring training he was nearly unemployed. But now he is 9-and-6 and is almost as much of a rescue project as Cabrerea. He was traded at the end of spring training by Houston to San Diego and the Padres immediately released him. The Reds picked him up just before Opening Day and he is the most consistent starter in the rotation.
“Going back that far, I sure didn’t know where I was going to be,” said Straily. “But this is what I expected of myself no matter where I was. I’m not finished yet, eight or nine more starts, and I have to keep that carrot out there to keep working. But it definitely feels good to be where I am right now.”
AFTER HIS HOME RUN in the second inning, when Cabrera came to bat the second time, umpire Pat Hoberg asked him, “When you hit your first major league home run last year off John Lackey, guess who was umpiring behind the plate? Me.”
What’s strange about that is that Hoberg is a minor-league umpire who is called up to work in the majors only when needed.
So how does a guy who plays sporadically walk into the batter’s box and smack the ball hard four straight times?
“It’s really hard, but I came in every day and work in the batting cage,” he said. “I do my routines and do my drills and be ready to play every day. I know I don’t play every day, but I get ready as if I am.”
And how is it as Straily’s personal catcher?
“Pretty good, pretty good,” said Cabrera. “He is a really smart pitcher, so we have a good relationship and we’re doing good. He works very hard, too. When you work hard those are the results you get.”
And that goes for Cabrera, too.
THE REDS ADDED TWO RUNS off Fernandez in the third, one on a double by Eugenio Suarez to give the Reds a 5-0 lead and Fernandez was gone after four innings.
Clearly, the 23-year-old right hander who has a 34-16 career record does not consider Great American Ball Park a vacation hot spot. In 70 career starts, Fernandez has failed to get past the fourth inning only five times, twice now in GABP.
The Marlins had their hearts torn out on Sunday before they arrived in Cincinnati when they lost marquee outfielder Giancarlo Stanton for the season.
But when they were down 5-0 they didn’t quit. They finally reached Straily for two runs in the sixth on Marcell Ozuna’s two-run home run. Straily was replaced in the seventh by Jumbo Diaz and his error and walk led to a two-run single by Martin Prado, shaving the Reds lead to 5-4.
SHORTSTOP ZACK COZART was not in Thursday’s lineup because he is suffering from some late-season repercussions from his reconstructive knee surgery at the end of last season.
“He still has some periodic issues with his patella tendon and his achilles, backd and foreth nagging issues,” said Price. “It is something we have to continue to monitor. When he started to play more (earlier in the season) it represented the fact he was feeling better and got past those first four to six weeks when we were more conservative with his playing time.
“However, he is not 100 per cent alleviated from the issues of the knee surgery in the off-season, still has some periodic soreness. Than can lend itself to overcompensating with the other knee. If I need him to play, he could play, albeit it would be uncomfortable. So today is a treatment day for him as we try to alleviate this instead of having it bother him the rest of the year.”
Price said the ouchy and tender knee hasn’t affected Cozart’s hitting, but Price did notice Cozart was a bit slow in responding to ground balls a couple of times in lthis series, breaking late, “But still making the plays.”
And this is not unexpected. It is a process of recovery and Price added, “It is part of trying to recover from that type of knee surgery. It is following a course that we anticipated. We need to get some inflammation and some soreness out.”
LEFT FIELDER ADAM DUVALL missed his third straight start due to soreness in his foot after fouling a ball off it, but did get into a batting cage to do some light hitting.
“Duvall is still a couple of days away from being considered for a return to the lineup,” said Price.
Michael Lorenzen, on berevement leave all this week, is expected back Friday for bullpen duty, if needed, when the Reds open a four-game seriew against the Los Angeles Dodgers, with Tim Adleman taking the rotation spot of Cody Reed, optioned to Class AAA Louisville after his last start, a loss that dropped him to 0-and-7.