By HAL McCOY
CINCINNATI — The one certainty one heard all spring about the Cincinnati Reds was: “They’ll hit, they’ll score runs, they’ll hit, they’ll score runs.”
And perhaps they will, even though they barely are displaying a pulse at home plate over the last couple of days as the long, long season begins its trudge toward October.
After absorbing a shutout Sunday, the Reds extended their scoreless stretch to 14 innings Monday night before Yasiel Puig’s first hit in a Reds uniform, a double, scored two runs in the fifth inning.
That, though, was nearly all they wrote into the scorebook on this ear-numbing evening during a 4-3 loss to the loaded lineup of the Milwaukee Brewers. The game enticed only 7,799 to sit in the world’s largest deep freezer, the smallest gathering in ball park history.
And the news gets worse. Pitcher Hunter Greene, the team’s No. 1 draft pick in 2017 blew out his elbow in Arizona and will undergo season-ending ulnar collateral ligament (Tommy John) surgery next week.
Puig was 0 for 8 with four strikeouts when he etched his first positive mark for the Reds. And he was the tying run on third base with two outs when Matt Kemp took a called third strike, his third strikeout in seven hitless at bats for the Reds.
And when he expressed his displeasure to umpire Jeff Nelson with a foul-mouth word he was ejected.
It stayed 3-3 until the top of the ninth when the Brewers scored a run with two out and nobody on against Raisel Iglesias. Christian Yelich singled and Ryan Braun doubled him home.
The Reds threatened in the bottom of the ninth against hard-throwing left hander Josh Hader. Pinch-hitter Curt Casali doubled to open the inning, the first baserunner against Hader this season.
Then Hader did what Hader does. He struck out Scott Schebler on three pitches, retired Joey Votto on a line drive to left field and waited for Puig to kiss his bat a couple of times before ending the game on a pop foul.
Every pitch Hader threw was a fastball and he has thrown nothing but fastballs so far this season, 46 pitches, 46 fastballs. He has pitched four scoreless innings and earned three saves for the 4-and-1 Brewers.
For the second straight game, one of the new starting pitchers had an ignominious start.
On Monday Tanner Roark followed what Sonny Gray did on Sunday, struggling mightily.
Roark gave up three runs on three its and three walks (one intentional) in the first inning before righting himself with 3 1/3 scoreless innings after the first inning.
“You are going to have blips like that in the first inning where you give up three or four runs,” said Roark. “You can’t just throw in the towel. You have to keep going, not give up. Give your team a chance to win.
And the first inning?
“I was obviously all over the place, not throwing strikes,” he said. “I was letting hitters feel comfortable and then I had to throw fastballs. First game of the year. . .38 more hopefully.”
Roark took the high road when asked if his problems were weather-related, making the baseball hard to grip.
“It is what it is,” he said. “I’m from Illinois and used to that kind of stuff. It’s no excuse. It’s Mother Nature and you can’t control it. Who cares if it is hard to grip the ball. It’s hard to grip the ball for the other team, too.”
The Reds began the sixth inning with back-to-back singles by Jose Peraza and Tucker Barnhart against relief pitcher Alex Claudio.
The Reds turned into a run to tie the game, 3-3, when the Brewers failed twice to turn a double play, the last one a run-scoring fielder’s choice by Derek Dietrich.
The Greene announcement was made late during Monday’s game by President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams.
“He had a setback last week,” said Williams. “He threw to live hitters last Saturday and I was there and saw the session and it went well.
“He was warming up several days later for another session of live batting practice and felt some discomfort,” Williams added. “We shut him down and had MRIs done and there was new damage done to the ligament and he requires surgery.”