By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — There was a 1914 movie entitled, ‘On Again, Off Again, Finnegan.’ If there is a sequel and it is about Cincinnati Reds pitcher Brandon Finnegan it will be called, ‘Off Again, Off Again, Off Again Finnegan.’
Finnegan started Sunday afternoon’s game in Great American Ball Park and gave up four runs in the first inning, something the run-starved Reds could not overcome, losing 8-5.
The first four Marlins scored in the first inning and Finnegan didn’t retire his first batter until his 28th pitch.
So, Finnegan is now 0-and-3 and the Reds have lost all five of his starts this season. Finnegan last won a game 595 days ago. Isn’t it time to end The Brandon Finnegan Experiment? Isn’t it time to at least try Amir Garrett in the rotation?
Reds manager Jim Riggleman was evasive about the possibility of extracting Finnegan from the rotation.
“I don’t think I can address that at this time,” he said. “We just have to get better starts, whether it is Brandon or somebody else in that slot. He is better than this, I know that. We just didn’t get much out of him today.”
Riggleman sees no physical problems with Finnegan. If having command problems and location problems is mental, then Finnegan is mentally challenged on the mound these days.
“His velocity indicates he is where he has been the last year,” said Riggleman. “He is just not commanding the strike zone, getting behind in the strike zone and getting into hitters’ counts.”
Finnegan seems oblivious to his issues and shrugs off any suggestions he may lose his rotation spot.
“I’ve established myself here,” he said. “I just have to keep pushing forward and keep putting in the work with (pitching coach) Danny Darwin. My last two starts were steps forward, then I took a step back in the first inning today. Then I went back to how I was my last two outings.”
In those previous two outings of which he is so proud, he gave up four runs and seven hits in five innings against the Atlanta Braves on April 26. The start before that he gave up three runs and seven hits in 5 2/3 innings to the St. Louis Cardinals on April 21.
Of his first-inning Sunday, all 39 pitches of it, he said, “That’s a crappy way to start off a game, giving up four runs. It is tough for our hitters to come in and be ready to hit. Already down, 4-0.”
First inning misery is no stranger to Finnegan and he said, “The first inning has been tough in three of my five outings. My last two starts were big steps forward. I threw up zeroes and worked quick. But today I just didn’t have a feel for my pitches.”
Former Reds pitcher Dan Straily started for the Marlins and with two scoreless innings he extended Cincinnati’s scoreless streak to 18 innings. The spell was broken in the third inning when Straily issued a two-out walk to Jesse Winker and Joey Votto drove the next pitch into the left field stands for a two-run home run.
When Finnegan gave up a one-out single to opposing pitcher Straily in the fourth, his 60-pitch day was over — 3 2/3 innings, five runs, four hits, three walks and two strikeouts.
At the conclusion of the fourth inning, a pop-up rain and hail attack forced a delay of one hour, 13 minutes. And it stayed 5-2 until the Marlins batted in the top of the seventh against Kevin Shackelford.
Starlin singled and with one out he took second on a passed ball charged to catcher Tucker Barnhart. For some reason, Justin Bour was walked intentionally. Cameron Maybin took umbrage to that and doubled to the left field corner, driving in a run to make it 6-2.
Amir Garrett, just returned from a bereavement leave, came on with runners on second and third and one out. He struck out pinch-hitter Derek Dietrich, but walked Yadiel Rivera, hitting .125 to load the bases. He escaped damage though by striking out J.B. Shuck.
The Reds remained within striking distance, trailing 6-3 entering the ninth, but the Marlins scored twice in the ninth against Wandy Peralta on three hits and a rare error by third baseman Eugenio Suarez.
After scoring four runs in the first inning of the three-game series, the Reds scored runs in only three of the next 24 innings. In the last two losses, they had only 13 hits and without Joey Votto’s six hits they would have been even more hit-starved. Votto drove in four of the Reds’ five runs Sunday with his two-run home run, a run-scoring double in the seventh and a run-scoring single in the ninth.
Amazingly enough, because of some shaky ninth-inning relief pitching by Junichi Tawaza and two errors by shortstop Yadiel Rivera, the Reds scored twice and had two runners on base and the potential tying run at the plate. But, mercifully, Scott Schebler struck out on a full count to end a messy, messy game.
So the Reds lost two of three at home to Miami, the last place team in the National League East (13-and-20). By losing, the Reds kept pace with the Baltimore Orioles, both 8-and-26, for the worst record in baseball and the battle for the No. 1 overall pick next year, which goes to the team with this year’s worst record.
Asked if he is concerned about the Reds accepting defeat and get used to a losing mindset, Riggleman said, “We address that and have been addressing it. We just keep talking to ‘em. A lot of us in that room have been through it as a manager, a coach and some of the players. We have to get out of it, just get out of it.
“Ever club is trying to beat you every day and nobody is going to give you one,” he added “It is up to us to get out of this and play better.”