By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Tyler Mahle’s major league debut Sunday afternoon was a mixed bag and was proof once again that it is not how one starts but how one finishes.
Mahle held the Pittsburgh Pirates to no runs, one hit and a couple of walks over his first three innings, living up to most of the hype he constructed this year at Class AA Pensacola and Class AAA Louisville.
But on a hot, muggy day on the banks of the Ohio he gave up three runs, three hits, two more walks and a hit batter in his final two innings that led to a 5-2 defeat for the Cincinnati Reds.
Mahle left with a 3-2 deficit after five innings and it stayed that way until the top of the ninth when the Pirates scored three runs against Raisel Iglesias as the Pirates took two of three in the series.
Manager Bryan Price was upbeat about Mahle’s debut.
“I wasn’t disappointed with his outing,” said Price. “I was pleased by what I saw. Anybody who thinks a kid is going to come up and throw a complete-game shutout — it is going to happen, but that would be a rarity. He fared a lot better than many have this year so I wasn’t disappointed.”
Mahle said he felt pre-game jitters in the clubhouse, “ I was a little nervous, felt a little weird, something wasn’t right,” but by the time he took the field to play catch he was cool and calm and showed it for three innings.
“I was definitely wild,” said Mahle. “The strike zone is the same as Triple-A. I didn’t get some calls to by my way, but for the most part, especially my fastball, I was really wild.”
It was a classroom experience for Mahle, a learning process.
“I knew I needed to slow everything down,” he said. “I was getting a little too fast out there. I found myself leaking out and dropping my elbow. I just go a little sped up in the third and fourth innings.
“I learned it’s the same game up here,” he added. “The first three innings felt good and now I know I can do that. But once you get wild and start walking guys, things are going to go downhill. But it was good to see some of the swings those guys took against me. I’m seeing that it is the same game up here.”
One of his walks and the hit batter came around to score on him in the fourth inning. After the walk and hit batter, John Jaso pulled a two-run double inside the first base bag.
“I liked how he went after their lineup,” said Price. The inning they scored two runs was a walk, a hit batter and a ball that shoots right down the line. I thought he was poised, commanded his fastball. He started getting under the ball and it came up and he missed some locations. But, yeah, I liked what I saw.”
A suddenly sluggish Reds offense didn’t help Mahle pitch with less pressure. The offense consisted of five singles, a Scooter Gennett double and five walks to Joey Votto, tying his own club record.
They loaded the bases with no outs in the third and didn’t score. They put two on with no outs in the fifth and extracted only one run out of that.
Price was impressed with what Pittsburgh starter Jameson Taillon did with the bases loaded and no outs.
“He threw a 1-and-0 curve ball to Adam Duvall to get back into the count and a 2-and-0 change-up to Scooter Gennett for a strike,” said Price. “With the bases loaded, those are gutty pitches to make. He had no room for error and risked bases on balls to walk in runs.
“He made big pitches and that was the difference,” Price added. “That was a game for us to win and we didn’t do it — just sitting there for us to take and we weren’t able to take advantage of the opportunities we had.”
Mahle used 92 pitches to cover five innings and gave up three runs, four hits, four walks, hit a batter and struck out five.
And the Reds pitching assembly line continues to operate on full throttle. Mahle is the 29th different pitcher used by the Reds this season, the 15th different starter. He is the 16th rookie pitcher to appear this year for the Reds and is thr ninth rookie pitcher to start a game.
Catcher Chad Wallach also made his major league debut and went 0 for 4. And when Mike Lorenzen pitched the eighth inning, it was a college re-union. Wallach and Lorenzen both attended Cal State-Fullerton and Wallach caught Lorenzen all three years they were there.
The Reds injected a bit of excitement in the bottom of the ninth against Pirates closer Felipe Rivero. With two outs and a runner on second, Pittsburgh shortstop Sean Rodriguez threw Zack Cozart’s ground ball into the dirt and the potential game-ending extended the game.
Joey Votto walked for the fifth straight time, on a full count for the fourth time, loading the bases for Adam Duvall, the potential winning run. Duvall grounded into a fielder’s choice to end it.
Of Mahle, Pittsburgh manager Clint Hurdle said, “This is probably a guy we have more information on than anyone we’ve seen for the first time. He just pitched a few days ago against Indianapolis (Pittsburgh’s Triple-A team) So, we’re up to speed as far as information.
“You take the tapes you get, you look at it, you get information from guys who actually saw this guy pitch, you walk through it, you read through it and then you go play,” added Hurdle.
Despite the plethora of information, the Pirates didn’t make Mahle cry uncle and he easily could have won with a little support from his friends.
“The advantage is always to the pitcher, if he makes his pitches. If he doesn’t make his pitches he is going to get blasted. Good pitching beats good hitting and it has for a long, long, long time,” said Hurdle during a pre-game assessment of Mahle.
And what did three different scouts who saw Mahle report on:
“Earlier in the year, the velocity on his fastball was higher. He is mostly fastball, change-up, with a slider. Throws an occasional get-me-over curve ball to get ahead in the count. He will challenge. He is about command and controlling bat speed. He is a good athlete who fields his position and controls the running game.”
Then Hurdle watched Mahle do everything the report said he would.
“It is always fun to watch a guy makes his major league debut,” said Hurdle, knowing it is more fun when your team beats him. “He a strike-thrower who tries to get the ball on the ground.”
Although he lost, Mahle definitely hit the ground running and is off to a solid start.