By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Reds need to discover some come-from-behind magic and they need to find it pronto.
Not only have the Reds not won a game yet after three tries, they have at no point this season even led one of those three games.
The Washington Nationals completed a three-game sweep on Easter Sunday, 6-5, in front of a small, cozy and quiet gathering in Great American Ball Park, a group not big enough to be called a crowd (10,335).
Amazingly, newcomer Phil Gosselin hit a two-out, two-run home run in the bottom of the ninth, but the comeback attempt from four runs down fell a run short.
The Reds fell behind in the first inning in all three games — one run in Game 1, three runs in Game 2 and two runs in Game 3.
And they haven’t recovered in any of them.
What has made it difficult is that the Nationals have scored early to take leads and then continued to add-on while the Reds puffed behind.
“We have to continue to find ways to get on base and things will turn for us,” said manager Bryan Price. “They did exactly what we want to do — get a lead and add runs on. It makes every bit of difference in a one-run game. We just haven’t been able to stop them late in the games.”
Sal Romano started Sunday’s game and gave up a game-opening single to Adam Eaton, his sixth straight hit after he went 5-for-5 Saturday. When Anthony Rendon homered into the left field seats it was 2-0 before Romano had an out.
Despite the fact he was a one-pitch pony — only his sinker was working on this day — Romano settled in nicely after Rendon’s home run, preventing any more scores until Bryce Harper led the sixth inning with a long-distance home run halfway up the bleachers in right field to make it 3-0. It was the first of two Harper homers. He struck again in the top of the ninth against Raisel Iglesias to extend Washington’s lead from two runs to three.
Of Rendon’s first-inning home run, Romano said, “I threw three or four fastballs in a row to him and all were in the perfect spot I wanted them to be in. He wasn’t able to do anything with them but foul them off, so I wanted to stay in there on him.
“I didn’t want to speed his bat up with a curveball or changeup so I tried to stay in hard and missed my spot and he did what he was supposed to do with it. I just need to be a little bit better than that. I learned from it and was able to bounce back and give the team five more good innings.”
Silencing the hard-hitting Nats with only one effective pitch was an eye-opener for Romano.
“Against a lineup like that, being able to do what I did with only one pitch is definitely a confidence boost,” said Romano. “But when it comes down to it we lost and that’s what is most important to me. I’ll take the positives from this game, being able to make use of my sinker to induce weak contact and ground balls and go from there.”
Price was more than satisfied with what he saw from Romano is his first start of the season.
“He was really good and recovered well after those first two hitters,” said Price. “Beyond the solo shot (by Bryce Harper) after that he was really good. And he didn’t have his breaking ball and changeup, but he had a good sinker and attacked the zone. I was pleased with his first start against a nice ballclub.”
The Reds’ major problem was the left arm of Nats starting pitcher Gio Gonzalez. Through five innings the Reds didn’t advance a runner to third base and only one reached second as Gonzalez held them to three hits.
They broke through for a run in the sixth when Eugenio Suarez walked, took second on a ground ball by Joey Votto and scored on Adam Duvall’s double off the right field wall, cutting Washington’s advantage to 3-1.
Romano departed after six innings. He gave up only four hits, but he walked four (one intentional) and two of the four hits were home runs.
Yovani Gallardo made his Reds debut as Romano’s replacement and he spilled his Easter jelly beans.
After he struck out opposing pitcher Gonzalez, he gave up a single to No.9 hitter Wilmer Difo and Adam Eaton struck again.
The Springfield-area native and graduate of Kenton Ridge High School, less than an hour’s drive from GABP, blasted his second home run of the series, his eighth hit of the series.
Eaton is 12-for-25 (.480) for his career against the Reds in Great American Ball Park. Eaton hit two of the eight home runs the Nationals hit in the final two games of the series. The eight home runs is the most in Nationals/Montreal Expos history in the first three games of a season.
The Reds’ best opportunity to rescue one of these games surfaced in the eighth inning when the first four reached base against relief pitcher Sammy Solis on two walks and a hit batter.
So, with the score 5-2, the Reds had the bases loaded with no outs. All that was wiped away when Adam Duvall hit into a double play (a run scored) and Scooter Gennett flied out, leaving the Reds 5-3 behind.
A large hunk of Cincinnati’s offense is AWOL, most noteworthy shortstop Jose Peraza (0-for-12, five strikeouts) and center fielder Billy Hamilton (1-for-8, four strikeouts). Hamilton broke his 0 for 7 start with a run-scoring double in the eighth inning, but struck out to end the game for the second straight time in the two games he has played.
Price doesn’t want to speak for Peraza when asked if Peraza might be pressing and putting pressure on himself, but did say, “He could be and I don’t want to speak for him. But he has a lot of pride and I know he wants to get off to a good start.
“I just want him to settle in and be himself,” Price added. “He has done a really nice job defensively. A lot of guys get off to slow starts and I’m looking for him to rally and I’m sure he will.”