By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Any day now every member of the Cincinnati Reds bullpen is going to show up at work with their shoulders in a sling and their elbows encased in ice buckets.
And it won’t be a gag.
Because the Reds starting pitchers can’t seem to pitch more than half of a game the bullpen once again has to be used, overused and abused.
During the Reds last 14 starts only three pitchers made it out of the fifth inning and only one, Tyler Mahle, survived seven innings.
Homer Bailey was the latest to go five and dive. He pitched five innings, gave up five runs, six hits (two home runs) and a walk as the Reds dropped a 7-6 decision to the Milwaukee Brewers.
Bailey mentioned after his last start that he was working on his slider and he was asked after Tuesday’s game how it was going.
“It is going so well that our offense put up six runs and we still lost,” said Bailey. “Kudos to them for doing their job. Nothing else to say other than I didn’t do mine.”
Is it any surprise or shock that the Reds pitching staff is once again the worst in the league, by far? Their team earned run average is 5.37. The next worst team is Miami at 4.75.
The bullpen has the fewest saves (three). The staff has given up the most hits (273), the most runs (158) and the most home runs (48), 13 more than Miami’s second most total.
Manager Jim Riggleman has been around more than long enough to know the perils of digging too quickly and too deeply into his bullpen. But for the most part it just can’t be helped.
“That’s always a concern,” he said when asked about exhausting his bullpen. “But we are just kind of reacting to game situations. Homer was pretty labored after five so we got him out of there.”
The game began as if it would be a Home Run Derby with runners circling the bases like ponies on a carousel.
Both teams scored three runs in the first and both teams hit two-run homers in the first. Milwaukee also added a second home run in its first.
Christian Yelich singled with one out and with two outs Travis Shaw homered over the right field wall. Jesus Aguilar made it back-to-back homers with a drive over the left field wall and a 3-0 Milwaukee lead.
Jose Peraza, batting leadoff, opened the bottom of the first with a single, stole second and scored on Joey Votto’s single. Eugenio Suarez tied it with a two-run home run into the left field seats.
Then matters settled down quietly, staying at 3-3 until Milwaukee batted in the fifth, Brewers first baseman Eric Thames, the Reds slayer the last two years, is on the disabled list with a broken thumb.
But Milwaukee has another guy who takes delight in puncturing the Reds — Ryan Braun. His two-out double down the right field line scored two runs and gave the Brewers a 5-3 lead. Braun’s double was preceded by an infield hit and a walk.
So what does Brewers starter Chase Anderson do? He begins the bottom of the fifth by walking Adam Duvall, a guy hitting .162 whom he already had struck out twice.
Then the fun began. They tried to pick Duvall off first base and he was called safe. The Brewers challenged and the call stood. Duvall was safe. Eugenio Suarez walked, putting the potential tying runs on base. Once again the Brewers tried to pick off Duvall, this time at second base. He was called out. The Reds challenged this call, but the out call stood, ending the inning.
If Duvall is distracted by his offensive miseries or is trying too hard, Riggleman doesn’t see it.
“I don’t know,” he said. “I do know you’d be hard-pressed to find a player who cares more than Adam. I know that stings him to get picked off there. Give Milwaukee credit. They made a visit to the mound and I’m sure they put that play on. That’s preparation and execution.”
David Hernandez replaced Bailey in the sixth and gave up a one-out walk to Manny Pina and a run-scoring double to Jonathan Villar to make it 6-3.
The Reds scored a run in the sixth on a walk, a ground ball and Billy Hamilton’s run-scoring single. But he ended the inning when he was caught trying to steal, the first time this year he has been caught after five successes.
It took Milwaukee until its next at bat to retrieve that run. Hernan Perez, who was double-switched into the game, greeted relief pitcher Amir Garrett with the Brewers third home run of the game and a 7-4 lead.
The Reds filled the bases with one out in the seventh and scored just once, a sacrifice fly by Suarez, his third RBI of the game and seventh in the first two games of the series. Milwaukee relief pitcher Matt Albers walked Tucker Barnhart to reload the bases and impatient rookie Rosell Herrera flied to center on the first pitch, leaving it at 7-5.
Alex Blandino, given the night off, was part of a late-game double switch and it paid off. He opened the bottom of the eighth against relief pitcher Jacob Barnes with a home run into the left field seats, Blandino’s first major league home run.
Billy Hamilton followed the home run with a single. After Jose Peraza flied to center, Riggleman once again displayed that he isn’t averse to assuaging egos. He sent up Jesse Winker to bat for slump-shrouded Adam Duvall. It worked. Winker singled to right and sent Hamilton to third.
Milwaukee manager Craig Counsell brought in right hander Jeremy Jeffress to face Joey Votto and he struck him out. And his next pitch ended the inning, a ground ball by Scott Schebler, leaving the Reds on the short end, 7-6.
“I’m proud of the guys for the way they keep battling back,” said Riggleman. “But that’s just where we are right now. That’s why we are in the standings where we are. I really know we’re getting closer and we are going to get out of this.”