By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — The media stepped softly, sort of beating around the bush, or is it beating around the mound, while asking about Bronson Arroyo and his immediate future with the Cincinnati Reds.
The 40-year-old Arroyo commands that kind of respect and talking about his demise is not a pleasant approach.
Arroyo pitched 5 1/3 innings Sunday afternoon against the Colorado Rockies and gave up six runs and nine hits – four of the hits left the premises.
All four home runs were bases empty bolts, but they were enough for the Rockies to pin a 6-4 defeat on the Reds.
One of the four home runs even came off the bat of the opposing pitcher, 25-year-old rookie Kyle Freeland.
Carlos Gonzalez homered, D.J. LeMahieu homered, Pat Valaika (brother to former Reds infielder Chris Valaika homered) and Freeland homered, his first career home run.
After Valaika’s home run, Arroyo walked pitcher Freeland, his third straight time on base, and Arroyo’s day was done.
His day probably would have been done in the bottom of the fifth when it was his turn to bat with one out and the Reds trailing, 4-1.
But with fresh and viable bullpen arms in short supply, manager Bryan Price permitted him to bat and strike out. And he didn’t make it past one out in the sixth.
SO ONCE AGAIN A REDS starting pitcher couldn’t hang around more than half of a game, putting another heavy burden on the bullpen. Arroyo gave up six runs and nine hits, four home runs, in his 5 1/3 89-pitch outing.
In 47 innings this season, Arroyo has watched 15 home runs clear the walls and fences while he is on the mound.
The elephant in the clubhouse, of course, is whether the Reds can continue to send Arroyo to the mound every fifth day. And Price quickly jumped to Arroyo’s defense.
“I don’t know how to even start to answer that,” said Price. “He is a veteran pitcher, a quality human being and a part of the culture here in the clubhouse. Talking about anything other than him making his next start would be wrong.”
Asked about Arroyo’s feelings, Price added, “He is extremely honest with us and with himself. He has never been known to mislead anybody. My concerns are inning-to-inning with his health issues. This game is a challenging game and it is unforgiving. It doesn’t respect the best of people, the best of pitchers, the best of players. I have a lot of optimism with him because he knows how to pitch and he has been a winner.
“I’m sure it is hard for him when we need a big game, a well-pitched game, that he was not the guy who was able to do it today. I’m sure that weighs on him,” Price added. “He is that kind of person.”
ARROYO, THOUGH, BELIEVES he is getting stronger and can still compete and he knows what’s ahead. With three starters on the disabled list, the Reds have few options and one of them is not to immediately remove Arroyo from the rotation.
“You can’t continue to give up a run an inning and expect a big league club to continue to run you out there,” said Arroyo. “In the position we’re in, we have a lot of guys hurt who will be coming back in a month or so. That is my window of opportunity to see if I can solidify myself as somebody who can continue to be good enough to be a big league starter. That’s when I’m going to find out if I’m still good enough.”
Although he still feels capable and comfortable Arroyo says, “There is an ebb and a flow to this game. I’ve been in this position a lot of times, even when I was young, when I was 100 percent healthy and had great stuff. It is just the way the game is. I reeled off four or five in a row that I felt confident in and I’m feeling better all the time.
“I just have to find ways to get deeper in the ballgames,” he said. “In the past I found ways to beat people in multiple ways. Now I have less to beat people with different options. Sometimes I have to show people the tricks in my bag too early.”
ANOTHER SHORT START BY a starter was the last scenario Price wanted to see.
“I can’t keep throwing out the early life lines for our starters,” he said. “You hate it for the fans and for the players on the field and for the starter to leave them out there. When they’re struggling and you just ask them to pitch through it, the challenge is when is enough enough.
“We do have to keep a mind’s eye on the bullpen because we lead the National League, and maybe all of baseball, in innings pitched by the bullpen,” Price added. “That isn’t going to work for the full season. If we stay on this pace, by the time the other guys (Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan) come off the DL and are ready to pitch, the bullpen will be tired, really tired
“This puts me in the position where I have to stick longer with starters even if there are some early struggles and some big innings early in the game. It is our only way to work through this without always being in the situation where we are short and overworked in the bullpen.”
The beleaguered bullpen shut it down, 1 2/3 scoreless innings by Robert Stephenson and two scoreless innings by Blake Wood.
The Reds, though, could not come back from five runs down this time, as they did Saturday when they were 8-3 behind and won, 12-8.
THE REDS SCORED FIRST IN the first — without a hit. Billy Hamilton reached on a rare error by third baseman Nolan Arenado — a ball that bounced off his face and cutting the skin.
Hamilton then stole second and third. Jose Peraza walked on a full count and stole second. It didn’t rattle Freeland, though. Hamilton scored on Joey Votto’s grounder to shortstop and Peraza was picked off second base when he broke too soon trying to steal third.
Freeland settled in from there, giving up no runs and two hits after the first inning through the fifth.
The Reds mounted another late-game charge in the sixth when Peraza tripled off the top of the left field wall and Votto cleared the left field wall, cutting Colorado’s lead to 6-3. It was Votto’s 233rd career home run, tying him with close friend Jay Bruce for seventh on the Reds’ all-time chart.
Scott Schebler, unwilling to give up the club lead to Votto, pulled his 12th home run of the season, tying Votto. That drew the Reds to within 6-4 and spelled the end of the afternoon for Freeland.
DEVIN MESORACO LED THE seventh with a double, but didn’t budge because pinch-hitter Patrick Kivlehan struck out, Billy Hamilton flied to right on a 2-and-0 pitch and Jose Peraza grounded to second.
Votto led the eighth with a single, Adam Duvall struck out and Eugenio Suarez struck out. Could Scott Schebler hit his third home run in two days and match his three-run home run that put the Reds ahead Saturday?
Nope, not this time. He struck out. Arismendy Alcantara also struck out, leaving the potential tying runs standing on the basepaths.
The Reds put the leadoff batter on base for the third straight inning when Colorado closer Greg Holland walked Mesoraco to start the ninth. It was more false hope when pinch-hitter Scooter Gennett struck out, Hamilton flied to center and Peraza struck out, already the 19th save for Holland in 19 opportunities this season.
The Reds have lost eight of their last nine and lost this series, two games to one, and have lost three straight series with the Cleveland Indians coming to town Monday for a two-game series.