By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — The Battle for the Bottom began Monday night in near-empty Great American Ball Park as baseball fans obviously didn’t want to see two really bad teams and couldnl’t tear themselves away from two NFL Monday Night Football games and Dancing With the Stars.
Instead of Ryan Braun they obviously wanted to see Ryan Lochte and they preferred Vanilla Ice over Scooter Gennett.
The fourth-place Milwaukee Brewers (64-79) entered the game 3 1/2 games ahead of the last-place Cincinnati Reds (60-82) in front of about 35,000 empty red seats. The Reds took the first game, 3-0, as Keyvius Sampson, Blake Wood, Michael Lorenzen and Raisel Iglesias combined on a six-hit shutoutk, slicing the Brewers lead over the Reds to 2 1/2 games.
IT WAS THE TEAM’S SECOND STRAIGHT shutout following Sunday’s 8-0 whitewash of the Pittsburgh Pirates by Brandon Finnegan, Jumbo Diaz, Ross Ohlendorf and Wandy Peralta. They combined on a seven-hitter. It was the team’s first back-to-back shutouts since July 29-29 of last season against the St. Louis Cardinals, but the Reds’ seventh shutout since the All-Star break this year.
It was Anthony DeSclafani’s turn in the Cincinnati rotation, but with a recent drop in velocity the Reds decided to skip his turn at least once through the rotation.
Instead, Keyvius Sampson was the stand-in and he did well until he had two outs and the bases loaded in the fifth inning. With a 3-0 lead he was one out shy of qualifying for a win. But manager Bryan Price brought in Blake Wood to retrieve the out and he induced a fly ball to left field from Hernan Perez to thwart the rally.
Over his 4 2/3 innings Sampson gave up no runs, four hits, walked two and struck out seven.
“It is his role, a swingman, a guy with the ability to pitch in length, middle relief and long relief and spot start because of his history as a starter,” Price said of Sampson. “He started here last year at times as well as in the minor leagues. This won’t be uncomfortable or new to him.”
SO IS KEYVIUS IN AN AUDITION state, showing what he possible can do next season as a possible member in good standing in the rotation?
“Everyone needs to be looking at these games as opportunities to make a statement going into the future,” said Price. “Everyone needs to know that we are trying desperately to get outside of being at the bottom of the division. Our focus is on winning, so right now role definition, as much as these guys might want it or covet it, we are going to put together the best possible team we can. And that might be with Keyvius in the rotation.”
To Sampson, it matters not. Just keep him in a big league uniform and he’ll start, pitch in relief, tape bats, polish shoes and run out for sandwiches for Joey Votto.
“No, not really, this isn’t an audition from my mindset,” he said. “Honestly, I’m just trying to help them win games and finish the season strong. If I’m starting or if I’ve relieving, I don’t care, as long as I’m here. I’ll do either/or. I’m pitching just to be here next year, not be in the rotation or the bullpen. It’s more just to be part of the team next year.”
IT HAS BEEN AN UP-AND-DOWN year for Sampson in more ways than one — both with his results and with his travels.
“Keyvius is a guy who we have options on, so we’ve moved him back and forth (between Class AAA Louisville and Cincinnati) a lot this year and he has handled it extremely well,” said Price. “He went to Louisville and pitched better, even though he didn’t do anything to pitch himself off our team. When we needed a roster spot for a bench player he would be the guy who would go down and pitch well and come back up and continue to help us out.”
Said Sampson of his packing and unpacking, “It’s a tough thing, but I’m not the first guy to do it and I won’t be the last. I just try to keep a positive mind and when I go down there I try to stay aggressive, continue to attack and work on things I need to work on to get better. It has transitioned pretty well because I’ve been able to throw strikes down there and then come up here and throw strikes with my off-speed and fastball. Of course, next year I’m hoping not to go up-and-down so much. I just want to be here.”
BEFORE THE GAME, PRICE ISSUED a game plan for Sampson and he followed it.
“We need him in a good rhythm early on and not trying to find your way so that the next thing you know you are behind by a few runs,” Price said before the game. “We need the opportunity to go out and take the lead.”
And that’s exactly what happened. Sampson gave up a two-out infield single to Ryan Braun but retired Hernan Perez on a fly to right.
Then the Reds took apart Milwaukee starter Wily Peralta in the bottom of the first, scoring three runs after there were two outs. Peraltaa walked Eugenio Suarez and then gave up back-to-back hard-hit infield singles that shortstop Jonathan Villar couldn’t handle.
That filled the bases for Scott Schebler’s two-out ground ball single to right and Tyler Holt’s run-scoring single for a 3-0 first-inning lead. Schebler is hitting .340 since August 12.
After Holt’s single, Peralta retired the next 15 Reds in a row but Sampson was able to keep a muzzle on Milwaukee’s bats. He struck out the side in the second. He put loaded the bases with two outs in the third but got Hernan Perez on a fly to right field.
WHEN HE LOADED THE BASES with two outs in the fifth Wood came on and Perez once again flied out with the bases loaded to end an inning. In his first three at bats Perez stranded seven runners.
“They had Ryan Braun coming up with two on and two out and I let him stay because I thought he earned that right,” said Price. But he walked Braun to fill the bases and Price said, “Once he got the bases loaded and he had Hernan Perez up there, a young guy having a terrifice year, it just seemed like the right time to get Wood in there.
“Sampson had a nice five-inning relief outing against these guys in Milwaukee earlier in the year,” said Price. “That doesn’t mean whole lot for tonight but he does have a good history with these guys.”
The Brewers threatened lightly in the top of the seventh when Michael Lorenzen gave up a one-out bloop single to pinch-hitter Jake Elmore. Jonathan Villar hit into a fielder’s choice for the second out and Lorenzen balked him to second. Scooter Gennett singled to medium-depth right field and Villar tried to score. Reds right fielder Steve Selsky threw him out, preserving the shutout.