By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Most Cincinnati Reds aficionados were concerned about the team’s starting pitching heading into the 2018 season and with a flip of the hand they thought, “We’re not worried about the hitting, the team is offensively armed and considered dangerous.”
Maybe that thinking should be reversed — although the evidence is only one day old after the Reds lost their Opening Day game to the Washington Nationals, 2-0.
Pitching? Homer Bailey gave up only one run over six innings and that one run was a large slab of misfortune for Bailey.
Hitting? Not only did the Reds not score, they had only seven hits and four of those came off the bat of Scooter Gennett.
But the Reds do get a quick hall pass on this one because they were facing Max Scherzer, who held them to five hits over six innings while striking out 10, including seven in a row at one point.
And here’s how the Nationals scored their tainted run off Bailey in the first inning. Adam Eaton blooped a single to right field. With one out Bryce Harper grounded a single up the middle, a hit that departed shortstop Zack Cozart probably stops. But it eluded Jose Peraza for a single, sending Eaton to third.
Ryan Zimmerman grounded to third base. Inning-ending double play? Nope. Scooter Gennett’s relay throw was in the dirt and Zimmerman was safe as Eaton crossed the plate.
Misfortune seems to shadow Bailey like a lost puppy looking for a home. Asked about it, Bailey shrugged and said, “It just makes you stronger. You hang with them and go back out there and hope for the best.”
There was a positive note in Bailey’s day. He was able to throw his curveball for the first time in about three years. And he threw it effectively.
Why couldn’t he throw it? “Because it hurt,” he said. “It was there today and it is something I haven’t been able to throw the last couple of years. We threw some in some really big counts that played well for us. To have that fourth pitch, to be a weapon, is going to be a big deal going down the road.”
Even though the record is now 0-and-1 for both the Reds and for Bailey, manager Bryan Price was ecstatic over Bailey’s day — six innings, one run, four hits, three walks, three strikeouts.
“Bailey was just phenomenal, his first day and throwing over 100 pitches (104), Opening Day, I thought he managed the situation extremely well,” said Price.
“This was the first time he has been healthy since the start of 2014,” said Price. “And he re-introduced that curveball into his mix. If this is a sign of things to come, it is a heck of a good first start.”
The only guy to figure out Scherzer was Scooter Gennett, who was 1 for 10 for his career against him. Three of his four hits came off Scherzer.
Gennett led the second with a double that so aroused Scherzer that he struck out the next seven Reds. Gennett had a two-out single in the fourth, followed by a Scott Schebler single that sent Gennett to third, but Scherzer struck out Tucker Barnhart.
Gennett had a one-out single in the sixth, but Schebler bounced into a fielder’s choice and Jose Peraza popped up.
“Scherzer is one of the best in the game in my opinion, without a doubt.” said Gennett. “I’d trade the 4-for-4 for an 0-for-4 if we had beaten him. He is so good — four, five or six pitches that he commands really well. My approach is that when he throws a strike, just react and hope for the best. You can’t watch strikes go by. You get 0-and-1 and you feel like you’ve already struck out. For me, it if looks like a strike, I’m going to swing. Keep it that simple. He never throws the same pitch in the same spot twice.”
Other than Gennett, the Reds had three other hits, a single by Bailey, a single by Joey Votto and a single by Scott Schebler.
Price’s experiment of batting Jesse Winker leadoff and Billy Hamilton ninth was a train crash, but Scherzer conducts a lot of train crashes.
Winker went 0 for 3 with three strikeouts and a walk. Hamilton went 0 for 4 with three strikeouts, including a strikeout to end the game with a runner on first.
Despite the fact Bailey has the most service of anybody on the team, he debuted in 2007 as a No. 1 draft pick, Friday was his first start on Opening Day.
“There is no doubt it was really fun,” he said. “We had great energy from the fans. To me, these are the games you look forward to playing. So kudos to the fans for coming out and really getting being behind us. It was a lot of fun.”
But Bailey takes no solace is his stellar outing not producing a win, even though he finished with a flourish in his sixth and final inning.
The first two Nationals reached before Bailey struck out Ryan Zimmerman and Howie Kendrick. Then he walked Trae Turner to fill the bases and fell behind Michael Taylor 3-and-1. But he coaxed a fly ball on a full count to end the inning.
The big pitch was a 3-and-1 slider that Taylor swung and missed and Bailey said, “Did you see that swing? (Yes, awkward). I do this for a living, too. That was fortunate to get out of that inning, a part of the game that can really define it,” said Bailey. “He could have hit a double to clear the bases, so that was a really big spot where we were able to pull through.
“I’m not that happy with my results because of the loss,” he added. “That’s the end of it. Every game you can find things you did well and you can find things you didn’t do well. To be satisfied with a good loss is just not in my nature.”