By Hal McCoy
It looks more and more as if TJ Friedl might be making a trip to a local tattoo emporium to have ‘Cincinnati Reds MVP’ inked on his biceps.
He can bunt for hits. He can spray singles to the entire acreage. He can run and he can steal bases like a thief running through a backyard. He can throw like a bazooka and he covers the outfield like a tarpaulin. And he probably could have ridden the winner in the Kentucky Derby.
And, oh, he can hit for power, too.
Friedl crashed a three-run homer and a run-scoring triple to drive in four of the five runs the Reds needed Saturday night in Great American Ball Park to beat the Chicago White Sox, 5-3.
But. . .wait just a minute before they pass out any Reds MVP hardware. Jonathan India has something to say. While Friedl did the heavy lifting, India was his usual pesky self.
He was on base four straight times with two singles, a double and a walk. He stole two bases and scored three runs.
The Friedl/India one-two punch saved the night for struggling starting pitch Nick Lodolo, who threw in his fourth straight clinker. In his last four starts, he has pitched to a 10.39 earned run average — 20 earned runs in 17 1/3 innings.
And Saturday was particularly egregious. He lasted only 3 2/3s innings and gave up three runs six hits, a walk and he hit three batters. When he left, the Reds trailed, 3-1.
The Reds gave him a 1-0 lead in the first inning when India opened with a single, stole second base and scored and Spencer Steer’s single.
Lodolo pitched out of trouble in the first after giving up a two-out infield single to Luis Robert Jr. and a full-count walk to Yasmani Grandal. He escaped by getting Andrew Benintendi to ground out.
He real trouble began in the second when he gave up a home run to Hanser Alberto leading off the inning to tie it, 1-1. He appeared to right himself in the third when he retired the first two White Sox batters.
But he hit Robert Jr. with a pitch, gave up an infield single to Grandal and a run-scoring double to Benintendi to push Chicago in front, 2-1. He then hit Alberto with a pitch to fill the bases, but Elvis Andrus flied to right to end that uprising.
The final indication that it wasn’t Lodolo’s night surfaced in the fourth when number eight hitter Suby Zavala led the fourth with a home run. He was 0 for 19 at the time. And number nine hitter Adam Haseley followed with a double.
Two outs later, Lodolo hit Robert Jr. again, Lodolo’s third plunked hitter of the night and sixth this season. That was it. Manager David Bell pulled him.
That’s when Fridel bailed him out. With one out in the fifth, Reds catcher Curt Casali poked a one-out single to left off herky-jerky White Sox starter Mike Clevinger. and India drew a walk.
Friedl fought Clevinger to seven pitches. The last three were fastballs and the third one landed in the right field seats, a three-run Friedl home run that gave the Reds a 4-3 lead.
The Reds scored their final run in the seventh whe India singled and Friedl ripped a triple up the right center gap and off the wall.
After Lodolo left, the Reds’ bullpen was practically perfect, holding the 11-23 White Sox to no runs and two hits over the final 5 1/3 innings.
Derek Law provided 2 1/3 innings of no runs, no hits. Ian Gibaut added two innings of no runs, one hit. And closer Alex Diaz gave up no runs and one to record his seventh save in seven opportunities.
He gave up a one-out single to Tim Anderson, who was 0 for 7 with four strikeouts in the first two games of the series. But the game ended when second baseman India and shortstop Jose Barrero turned a 4-6-3 double play on Andrew Vaughn.
The series is tied at a win apiece and Sunday’s series finale has been moved back to 4:10 due to an expected massive gathering of people and traffic around the ball park Sunday morning and early afternoon from The Flying Pig marathan.
TJ Friedl probably could win that, too.