By HAL McCOY
While most of the sports world is distracted these days by the NCAA basketball March Madness, the Cincinnati Reds are engaged in their own version of March Madness.
Trying to find more than warm bodies to fill the starting rotation is maddening.
For most of spring training, Amir Garrett has been saying “Why not me?” with some eye-opening performances.
It was not one of those days Sunday.
ALTHOUGH THE REDS WHOMPED the San Diego Padres, 9-4, Garrett was not impressive other than an ability to wiggle out of a few problems.
Garrett pitched five innings and gave up three runs, eight hits, walked one and struck out only one.
As has been the habit, both last season and during the spring exhibition season, Reds pitchers have difficulties getting out of the first inning.
Such was the case, too, for Garrett, even though he retired the first two Padres in the first. Then he gave up his only walk to Will Myers and Hunter Renfroe homered.
Over his last four innings Garrett gave up up only one more run but yielded seven hits.
ROBERT STEPHENSON, ANOTHER rotation candidate, followed Garrett and after a shaky start he made a loud statement.
He took over in the sixth and walked the first batter he faced, then threw two wild pitches.
But he pitched four innings and gave up one run, three hits, walked just the first batter he faced, and struck out five. That should push him back into the mix after spending most of the spring on the fringes.
THE OTHER ROSTER BATTLE concerns bench players, where the Reds were mostly inept last season.
After Garrett gave up two in the first, the Reds tied it, 2-2, in the top of second when Scott Schebler singled, outfield candidate Desmond Jennings ripped a run-scoring double and first base/outfield candidate Christian Walker doubled to tie it.
San Diego took a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the second against Garrett on two singles and a sacrifice fly.
AND THAT’S WHERE IT stood until the sixth when the Padres put Andre Rienzo on the mound.
The Reds scored four times, highlighted by a three-run home run by Schebler, trying to anchor his spot as the team’s starting right fielder.
The inning began with a Jose Peraza single and walks to Zack Cozart and Eugenio Suarez, filling the bases with no outs.
The tying run scored on Adam Duvall’s ground ball and Schebler unloaded his three-run shot over the right-center wall. Schebler, hitting .279 after a slow start, drove in three runs and scored two.
The Padres scored their only run off Stephenson in the seventh when Hector Sanchez hit a two-out, nobody-on home run to right field, cutting the Reds lead to 6-4.
BUT THE REDS PUT IT away in the eighth with three runs. The inning began with two guys vying for those bench spots hitting back-to-back home runs — Patrick Kivlehan and Jesse Winker. Catcher Rob Brantly later doubled home the final run.
Kivlehan, who can play nearly every position on the field, is hitting .378 with two homers. Winker is hitting .297 with one home run.
The Reds unleashed 13 hits that included four doubles and three home runs. Schebler and Peraza each contributed two hits.