By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — What the Cincinnati Reds pitching staff needs to do sometime soon is huddle around Miami pitcher Caleb Smith and ask, “What has changed?”
Smith shut down the Reds Saturday night on no runs and three hits over 5 2/3 innings as the Marlins shut down the Reds, 6-0. Smith struck out seven and walked one.
Early this season, Smith couldn’t find home plate with a GPS, a Sherpa, a guide dog and a map. Over his first four starts he walked 15 batters and didn’t win a game.
The Miami coaching staff noticed that the 26-year-old left handed Texan had a high swing-and-miss ratio and convinced him to quit nipping at the corners and throw strikes.
Over his last three starts, counting Saturday night, Smith has walked only two and struck out 26, winning two games and losing one by 1-0.
And Cincinnati’s bats once again have gone deadly silent. The Reds scored four runs in the first inning Friday night, then went scoreless the next seven in a 4-1 victory and nine more Saturday — 16 straight scoreless that led to their fifth shutout defeat this season. They collected only four hits, one over the last four innings.
The Reds had one legitimate chance against Smith and that came in the fifth inning when they trailed, 3-0. Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suarez reached on a two-out error, bringing Devin Mesoraco to the plate as the potential tying run. But he hit into an inning-ending double play.
“Smith was good, really good,” said Reds manager Jim Riggleman. “He has a nice easy delivery and the ball comes out at 94 and 95. He has a good breaking ball and he was a real challenge.”
The Marlins scored all they needed off Reds starter Tyler Mahle in the first inning when he gave up a one-out single to Martin Prado and a home run to Starlin Castro. Mahle gave up another run in the sixth, a two-out solo home run to Justin Bour.
His work sheet was six innings, three runs, five hits, no walks, four strikeouts and his fourth loss against two wins.
“I thought Mahle threw the ball well,”said Riggleman. “The first inning he let a slider stay up and Castro got him. Then he settled in and threw pretty well. I’m satisfied with what Tyler did, but I’m sure he feels he wasn’t on top of his game.”
Castro’s home run was the 100th of his career, but his first this year and Riggleman said, “I looked up at the board in the first inning and saw that Castro had zero home runs and I thought the law of averages might get us at some point because that guy is a good hitter.”
On May 7, 2010, Castro made his major league debut with the Chicago Cubs in Great American Ball park and produced a home run and a triple with six RBI.
Home runs have been a problem for Mahle. The two he gave up Saturday pushed his total to nine in 39 1/3 innings.
“I really never did settle down after the first inning because I continued to make average pitches,” said Mahle. “I had to battle all six innings I was out there. The long ball? Yes. There is nothing to it. I don’t know what to say about it, but it has to stop, that’s for sure. The balls they are hitting out are missed location. I throw a lot of fastballs, everyone knows it, so when I miss with it, it tends to get hard.”
Three runs against the Reds bullpen in the eighth inning put this one in a bag with a tight knot around it.
And this may or not mean anything, but it is an eye-popping statistic. Devin Mesoraco was the catcher Saturday night and the Reds are now 0-and-10 this season when he starts. Even more curious, he is on a 21-game losing streak. The Reds lost his last 11 starts last season.
Last season, the Reds were 10-and-27 when Mesoraco started at catcher and 51-54 when Tucker Barnhart caught.