By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — Jim Riggleman has been around baseball long enough to realize that a Major League season is a long and winding road. It does nobody any good to get giddy over a 7-and-3 record over 10 games or a 5-and-2 road trip. Nor does it do anybody any good to become overwrought if the team goes 3-and-7 over 10 games or 2-and-5 on a road trip.
Nevertheless, when your team is buried deeply in last place, covered with dirt, and you need the Hubble telescope to find fourth place, any positive re-enforcement is refreshing.
Cincinnati Reds fans and many media surrounding them are excited with the 7-and-3 record and the 5-and-2 road trip, something to hang their Reds caps on after a 3-and-15 beginning.
The reality of it all is that the Reds won two of three at the end of the last homestand against the New York Mets, a mess of a team that started the season 11-and-1 but has lost 18 of their last 27 games.
The reality of it is that they swept the Los Angeles Dodgers four games in Dodger Stadium, an injury-ravaged team that has lost 16 of its last 21 and is near the bottom of the National League West.
The reality of it is that the Reds lost two of three in San Francisco to Giants team missing three starting pitchers, its closer, its All-Star second baseman and its right fielder.
So is there real reason for optimism? To some point, yes. The Reds are hitting better and pitching better and playing defense better. Is it a case of whom they have been playing or the Reds getting better or a combination?
It is probably a combination and the proof will partially emerge over the next few days when the Reds play the Chicago Cubs four times and the surprisingly good Pittsburgh Pirates three times, all in Great American Ball Park.
Asked how the road trip affected the team’s confidence, Riggleman said, “I think the team was gaining some confidence when we started the trip. There were a couple of games where we were down early and we came back to win the games. There was even a game where we were up early and let it get away from us.
“That’s a great reminder that you have to play nine innings. If the other team doesn’t put you away you can win the ball game. A couple of times the Dodgers didn’t put us away and we won those games. And there was a Giants game where we had them down and didn’t put them away.”
Riggleman, too, is a realist.
“We’re certainly happy with the 5-and-2 and there were a lot of subtle messages throughout it,” he said.
Riggleman took over a 3-and-15 team, lost his first three to the Cardinals to go 3-and-18, then has gone 12-and-11 since then. And he has seen things in the dugout.
“You see a little more energy in the dugout,” said Riggleman. “There is less heads hanging, as in ‘Woe is me,’ when you don’t get hits and you are losing some games.
“A lot of the encouragement comes from the return to the lineup of Eugenio Suarez and Scott Schebler, both being healthy,” said Riggleman. Both players missed significant time with injuries during the early doldrums. “Their teammates realize that with them in there we are at full force. That’s big.”
In 25 games since coming off the disabled list, Schebler is only hitting .233, but he has four home runs, four doubles and 15 RBI.
Suarez, though, has been a difference-maker. In 19 games since he came off the DL he is hitting .297 with seven multi-hit games. In that span he has hit five home runs, six doubles and driven in 23 runs.
There was a scare Tuesday night when Suarez rolled his ankle scrambling back to second base. He had to walk off the numbness and pain, but stayed in the game. He later homered and doubled. But the next day the ankle hurt enough to keep him out of the lineup.
The Reds had a day off Thursday and Riggleman made out two lineup cards before Friday night’s game until Suarez passed some on-the-field pre-game tests.
“We made up a couple of different lineups, one with him and one without him, before he passed a few of the tests,” said Riggleman. “He is not 100 per cent, but he will play.”
After doing his early afternoon on-the-field testing, Suarez said three hours before the game that he hoped Riggleman would use the card with his name on it.
Rirggleman did. He had him batting third in Joey Votto’s normal spot and Votto was batting clean-up.
“I think I’ll be all right,” said Suarez. “I want to play. My ankle didn’t hurt when I hit the home run and when I hit the double. My ankle felt great. The more tough time was the day after that. It really hurt.
“At the time I did it it really scared me,” he said. “I felt like I couldn’t move my ankle and that’s why I called timeout. I needed some rest. But there have been other times for me so I knew after I could put support on it that I’d be OK.”