Stephenson’s reward for winning? Back to AAA


CINCINNATI — Robert Stephenson is the Cincinnati Reds version of a First Responder, one who knows what to do in an emergency situation.

For the second time this year Stephenson was called up from Class AAA Louisville to make an emergency start, this time because scheduled starter Alfredo Simon has inflammation in his shoulder.

And once again Stephenson certainly was the Man of the Hour, totally mesmerizing and duct taping the Colorado Rockies for seven innings to help the Reds to a 4-3 victory.

STEPHEN SON, THE TEAM’S No. 1 draft pick in 2011, faced one of baseballs more potent offenses and held it to one run and three hits over seven innings. Significantly, he held the high octane first five in the Colorado batting order to 0 for 15.

And his reward for his 2-and-0 record and becoming the first Reds starter to pitch seven innings? Back to Class AAA Louisville as fast as the Reds can get him there.

“At this point, he has had two major league starts that have been good,” said manager Bryan Price. “But we still feel there are some things he can improve upon. If the need was here I’d be happy to have him but right now the need is not here. We do think he still has a ways to go as far as his development.

“We just don’t have the luxury of being able to keep him here,” Price added. “We don’t want him pitching in the bullpen. Coming into this year we thought there were some things Robert needed to work on and he can work on them up here, but our thought was that at this time of the year he would be pitching in Triple-A and continue to work on things. He can cut out a spot for himself in our rotation when we need it.”

DON’T TRY TO PASS that one off on the Rockies.

After the seventh inning, it was bullpen time, which nearly always this season has become Fright Night. And it was again.

Caleb Cotham pitched a perfect eighth and left hander Tony Cingrani started the ninth by striking out Carlos Gonzalez. Manager Bryan Price brought in closer J.J. Hoover and he quickly got the second out.

But Gerardo Parra bunted for a hit and Mark Reynolds hit a home run to center field that provided Reynolds enough frequent flyer miles for two round trips to Paris.

That made it 4-3 before Hoover retired Ben Paulsen on a fly to right to end it.

ASKED AFTER THE game how long Hoover’s rope is as the closer, Price said, “That’s hard to say and I knew that would be a question today after tonight’s game. It is kind of a tenuous point at this time. I really want him to be able to handle those situations, but we need performance. I’m going to sleep on it and I’ll have a better answer tomorrow.”

As for Stephenson, he fell behind, 1-0, in the second inning on a two-out double by Reynolds, a balk and a single by Paulsen. And that was it for the Rockies — period, paragraph, move on. They had only one hit from the third through the seventh. His only problem was a leadoff double by Paulsen in the fifth, but Stephenson retired the next three.

“Colorado has a really nice ball club and you know they are going to score their share of runs,” said Price. “They have power, they have speed and do some nice things offensively. Stephenson did a good job of not making too much of the situation. We just told him, ‘Just go out and pitch like it is a regular environment and pitch the way you do.’”

PRICE GAVE CATCHER Devin Mesoraco top props for guiding Stephenson through the tumult.

“That might have been the best-called game of the year,” said Price. “Devin did a wonderful job working with Robert, not always conceding fastballs in fastball counts. He was able to milk the curveball and change-up a fair bit and was able to pitch inside enough so those guys couldn’t just hang over the plate.”

The Reds scored all four of their runs in bizarre fashion in the second inning against left handed starter Jorge De La Rosa. Amazingly he struck out the side in the first.

But once the Reds got on base, it was Merry-Go-Round and calliope time. From the stretch, De La Rosa lifts his leg higher than the Rockettes and the Reds swiped five bases in the one inning, most of them with no throws and with nobody attempting to cover a base.

Billy Hamilton furnished the big blow, which was really a little blow, a hard ground ball that skipped high over third baseman Nolan Arena’s head for a two-run double.

Zack Cozart stretched his hitting streak to 10 game with an engaging battle against De La Rose in the second. Cozart fouled off four 3-and-2 pitches and on the 10th pitch of the at bat solidly lined a run-scoring single to left.

And Brandon Phillips came close to a natural cycle by hitting, in order, a single, double and triple. On his last at bat he needed a home run for the natural cycle but ruined it by lining a single to center, giving him a 4-for-4 night.

Finding starters and finding defeats

By Hal McCoy

CINCINNATI — The Cincinnati Reds keep finding things while they are losing things. They find starting pitchers and they lose games.

For the second straight day the Reds found a useable piece for their fluid starting rotation but lost the game.

On Sunday in St. Louis it was Jon Moscot coming off the disabled list to pitch 5 2/3 strong innings — three runs six hits — but the Reds lost, 4-3.

On Monday at home against Colorado it was even better when Dan Straily was plucked from the bullpen and started the game against the Rockies. He went five innings and gave up one run and only two hits — but the Reds lost, 5-1.

AND BOTH DAYS it was relief pitcher Ross Ohlendorf losing the game. On Sunday he gave up a run-scoring double in the eighth inning to back-up catcher Eric Fryer for the winning run.

On Monday Ohlendorf gave up a two-out home run to rookie megastar Trevor Story in the eighth inning for the winning run. It was Story’s eighth home run and quite a story it is because he is replacing departed Rockies rock star shortstop Troy Tulowitzki.

After Story’s home run, Ohlendorf gave up a single to Carlos Gonzalez and walked Nolan Arenando. Jumbo Diaz was brought onto the scene and his second pitch landed on the grass beyond the center field wall, a three-run home run by Ben Paulsen that nailed this one down conclusively.

OHLSDORF IS perplexed.

“The last two days my stuff was as good as it has ever been,” he said. “The results weren’t there, but sometimes that happens. If I keep pitching this way there will be good results, but it is frustrating that I got the loss in both the games, in close games, and couldn’t help the team out.”

He couldn’t help out either Moscot or Straily, both of whom deserved much better.

“Pitching is contagious and were not all contagious yet, we’re not infected,” said manager Bryan Price of his bullpen. “But to get Moscot and Straily out there and really working the zone is a positive. So much of pitching is working ahead so you can control the count and control the zone. Those were a couple of guys who worked ahead effectively. It doesn’t guarantee victory (as both discovered) but it increased your odds of having a good ballgame.”

STRAILY WAS PITCH-EFFICIENT and pounded and peppered the strike zone, especially early in the count. And he did that knowingly, knowing that since he pitched three innings just three days ago out of the bullpen that his time was limited.

He only threw 76 pitches (52 for strikes) over his five innings.

“That was the goal for today because I knew they would limit my pitch count based on the way we got to where we are (Straily starting after pitching in relief two days ago),” he said. “I was trying to get hitters out on three pitches or less, the stuff you always try to do but that was the main focus tonight.”

Straily most likely insured himself of at least two more starts until disabled pitchers Homer Bailey and Anthony DeSclafani return.

“That’s good because that’s what I’ve done my whole career,” said Straily. “I was embracing being the long man out of the bullpen, trying to be the best long man I could be. But I’d by lying if I didn’t say I wanted to start games.”

PRICE WAS DEFINITELY impressed with what he saw from Straily, a guy the Reds picked up off the waivers wire late in the spring and a guy who immediately told Price, “I have a rubber arm. You can use me every day.”

Of his first start, Price said, “He was terrific. Five innings of one-run ball after being two days removed from three innings in St. Louis. And he pitched a couple of innings in Chicago. He has been very efficient for us out of the bullpen and very durable. He gave us five very nice innings and a chance to win.”

The Reds were duct-taped for seven innings by Colorado pitcher Jordan Lyles, who came into the game with a 23-and-38 career record over 99 major league starts and a 5.18 earned run average.

But he held the Reds to one unearned run over seven innings and four hits as the Reds lost for the sixth time in their last seven games. And the Rockies have won five of their last six, including two of three in Chicago against the Cubs over the weekend.

“LYLES GAVE US trouble and this was a guy we’ve seen for a long time because I think he was 20 when the Houston Astros brought him up,” said Price. “He is a good-armed pitcher with a real good feel for pitching and tonight he was on.”

Straily only strayed once and it cost him a run in the second when he gave up a leadoff single to Nolan Arenado and walked Paulsen with no outs. But he bowed his back and only one run scored, that on a ground ball.

Colorado guarded that 1-0 like the entrance to a silver mine. Jay Bruce led the fifth with a line drive to left center and tried for a triple and was called out. The Reds challenged the out call and the call was upheld.

“He beat it, but it was just that his foot came off the bag,” said Price. “He came above the bag with his right foot. He is safe until his foot came up over the bag instead of on the bag.”

THLE REDS TIED IT the next inning with an unearned run against Lyles. Zack Cozart extended his hitting streak to nine game with a two-out single in the sixth. Jordan Pacheco doubled to left and when left fielder Gerrado Parra’s throw eluded the cutoff man for an error Cozart scored to tie it, 1-1.

Then came the eighth with Ohlendorf and Diaz and disaster.
Fortunately for the Reds, paid attendance at Great American Ball Park on a gorgeous spring night was only 12,777, smallest in Cincinnati since 1986.

Cozart: Hard work has its rewards


The warm and fuzzy story so far this season involves shortstop Zack Cozart and, as they say, “It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.”

When the Reds took the field Sunday to face the St. Louis Cardinals, Cozart took a .480 batting average with him.

Everybody knows Cozart isn’t going to hit .480 or .400 and probably not even .300. But if he can hit .280 to go along with his street sweeper defense he will be a major plus.

COZART MISSED THE last half of last season after destroying his knee running to first base and it was surgically repaired in about a dozen different places.

To get back to where he is took a ton of dedication to hard work, a ton of discipline to do it right.

And now he is back and playing as if Derek Jeter’s body parts were transplanted into Cozart’s frame.

HIS .480 AVERAGE is amazing enough, but even more noteworthy is that Cozart took 44 swings this year before he swung and missed a pitch. Every time he swung he either put the ball in play for fouled it off.

He finally swung and missed a pitch Saturday against the Cardindals, but on the next pitch to lined a double to right center.

Did he know about the incredible swing-and-miss statistic? “I never thought much about it, but Jay Bruce talked a little bit about it. I guess that’s good but I don’t know what it means.”

That’s typical Cozart — low key, unpretentious and even a little self-deprecating at times. He is the ultimate blue collar guy in that it is all hard work, all team player, nothing about himself.

IT IS PROBABLY why he might be the most underrated shortstop in the game. That doesn’t mean he is unappreciated by his manager, Bryan Price, and his teammates.

“I’m not surprised by what Zack is doing,” Price said earlier this season. “He is enjoying being back on the field and I know how much he missed it. He missed being on the field and he missed being part of this team. You can tell how happy he is to be back and I couldn’t be happier for him. It is a great story.”

Cozart is one of three Reds position players returning from surgery last season. Center fielder Billy Hamilton underwent right shouler surgery and catcher Devin Mesoraco underwent hip surgery.

Unlike Cozart, both Hamilton and Mesoraco have come back slowly. That isn’t to say they didn’t work as hard as Cozart. They did. And it just shows how difficult it is to return to the major league field and pick it right back up after major surgeries.

That makes Cozart something special.

AND HE IS EXACTLY what the Reds need right now. Hamilton is the guy the Reds want at the top of the batting order to utilize his world class speed. But he has to get on base to put it the speed into play. He hasn’t been able to do that.

So Cozart has stepped in. He isn’t blessed with an inordinate amount of speed, but he does what a leadoff hitter is supposed to do. He gets on base. His on base average so far this year is .464 and his OPS is 1.104 (a combination of on-base percentage and slugging percentage, four doubles in 25 at bats).

No, it won’t continue, not at this pace. Not even Joey Votto could maintain what Cozart has done in the seven games he has played.

But it won’t be because he doesn’t try, doesn’t mean he won’t work as hard as he always does. It is in his genes.

Reds need Votto, Hamilton to shake loose


There is a promotional message currently running on the MLB Network featuring Billy Hamilton.

There is a close-up of his face as he takes a lead off first base and he says, “I’m about to steal second base.” Then he does it and there is another close-up and he says, “Should I try for third?”

And it ends with Hamilton saying to the camera and aiming his comment to the in-studio commentators, “Save that one for the highlights tonight.”

CHICAGO CUBS PITCHER Jason Hammel probably saw that promo more than a few times, because MLB plays it over and over.

So when Hammel walked Hamilton to start Thursday night’s game in Wrigley Field he promptly picked Hamilton off first base.

Yes, Hamilton was about to steal second base, but it won’t be on the highlights and he had no opportunity to steal third.

This isn’t to say that had Hamilton not been picked off the Cincinnati Reds might have Thursday’s game. After all, they lost by 8-1.

Had Hamilton not been picked off and had he stolen second who knows how that might have affected Hamme?. Everybody knows what usually happens when Hamilton and his speed of Mercury get on base.

And would you believe that through the first nine games Hamilton has stolen one base? One? He has only tried once. Of course, a lot of that has to do with getting on base, a malaise that has followed Hamilton the past 2 ½ years like a pet puppy on a leash.

That, of course, is a product of a .174 batting average and a .321 on-base average.

THERE IS ANOTHER amazing number that is attached to the team’s best player and that number is not even a number. It’s 0, as in zero.

That’s the number of extra base hits accumulated so far by Joey Votto. No doubles, no triples and no home runs.

What makes it more scalp-scratching is that during spring training they couldn’t get Votto out and he sprayed the baseball all over the place.

Just shows you what spring training numbers really mean.

Nobody expects Hamilton not to steal bases and nobody expects Votto to be at .242 with no extra base hits for very long. But they both need to get it out of neutral and into overdrive as soon as possible.

THE REDS ARE REELING right now after a three-game dose of reality in Chicago, three straight losses to the Chicago Cubs.

Does this prove anything? Not this early in the season, other than the Cubs are something special. They make the opposing pitchers throw strikes and they lead the league in walks. And their pitchers throw strikes and lead the league in fewest walks. And there isn’t an easy out in the batting order, top to bottom. Even starting pitchers John Lackey and Jason Hammel drove in runs with hits against the Reds.

Former Reds/Mets/Dodgers/Orioles manager Davey Johnson always liked to say, “You are never as good as you look when you are on a winning streak and you are never as bad as you look on a losing streak.”

That might apply to the Reds. Were they as good as they looked when they started 5-and-2? Probably not. Are they as bad as they look right now after losing three straight? Probably not.

THE ST. LOUIS CARDINALS lost their first three games of the season to the Pittsburgh Pirates and everybody knows they aren’t that bad. They’ve won five of their last six.

The Pittsburgh Pirates won their first three but have lost five of their last seven and everybody knows they aren’t that bad.

What does all this mean in the long haul? Not much. It’s early, unless you are the Minnesota Twins (0-9) or the Atlanta Braves (0-9). Just remember this one — wins (and losses) count the same in April as they do in September.

IT DOESN’T GET any easier for the Reds this weekend — three games in St. Louis. And they are sending rookie/journeyman Tim Melville against the Cardinals tonight, Brandon Finnegan on Saturday and good ol’ TBA on Sunday. Most likely Jon Moscot will come off the disabled list to pitch Sunday. And his one-game minor league rehab start was not pretty.

As expected, the Reds bullpen is in disarray, especially closer J.J. Hoover. After giving up a grand slam home run to Pittsburgh’s Starling Marte to blow a save, Hoover was pretty much inactive because there haven’t been many save situations.

He wasn’t in a game for four days when manager Bryan Price brought him into Thursday’s game with the Reds trailing the Cubs, 3-0. He was put in because he needed work.

He retired one batter. He walked three, he gave up three hits, he was charged with four earned runs.

As one man put it, “The only thing Hoover can close is the door behind him when he leaves.” That’s a bit harsh, but it is clear some major adjustments will be needed soon in the bullpen.

Agony on Addison Street for the Reds


Do we need Chicken Little right now? Is the sky falling? Do we need the little boy to cry wolf?

Many Cincinnati Reds fans were overly exuberant when the team won five of its first six.

They didn’t recognize that the first three came against the Philadelphia Phillies, a team that is in a true rebuilding scheme. The only real recognizable name on the field was Ryan Howard, once a superstar and now a fading star.

THE REDS CAN say all they want about rebuilding and retooling and re-adjusting. But as long as they have Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips, Jay Bruce, Zack Cozart, Devin Mesoraco and Billy Hamilton on the field they are not in a true wipe-the-slate-clean and start over mode.

The pitching staff, indeed, other than Homer Bailey, is indeed in audition territory. But with veterans like Votto, Phillips, Bruce, Cozart, Mesoraco and Hamilton in the lineup this is not a bona fide tear-it-down and build-it-back-up scenario.

Anyway, the Reds did take two of three from the Pittsburgh Pirates on the opening homestand, but the Pirates are in a bit of a spiral. After sweeping three games at home against the St. Louis Cardinals, the Pirates have lost four of their last five.

THEN CAME THE current series against the Chicago Cubs and reality hits. The Cubs are a good team, a very good team. There isn’t an easy out in the lineup.

For 6 2/3 innings of the first game in Wrigley Field, the Reds were in control — Brandon Finnegan had a no-hitter and the Reds led, 3-0. Finnegan, though, gave up a bloop hit with two outs and nobody on in the seventh to former Reds catcher David Ross, Chicago’s back-up catcher.

When he walked the next batter, a pinch-hitter, on four pitches, manager Bryan Price took him out. He had thrown 111 pitches and the walk showed he was physically and emotionally drained.

RELIEF PITCHER Diaz eventually gave up a three-run home run on his first pitch to Addison Russell, the Cubs’ eight-hole hitter. And what an appropriate first name for a guy playing for the Cubs, a team whose home park is on Addison Street.

Then came Wednesday night, a 9-2 earthquake, 7.5 on the Richter Scale. After the Reds gave starting pitcher Alfred Simon a 1-0 lead in the top of the first, Simon was simply awful.

He didn’t make it out of the first inning for the first time in his career. He needed 49 pitches to get one out, the most pitches in one inning of his career.

HE MADE A TERRIBLE mess, aiding and abetting the enemy by walking three in a row in mid-inning. It was cold, very cold. Simon spent more time blowing on his pitching hand than he did throwing strikes. But the frigid night didn’t seem to bother Cubs starter John Lackey. He went 6 2/3 innings and gave up two runs, six hits and struck out seven. He only walked two, one less than Simon gave up in two-thirds of an inning.

Simon went into the game with a 4-and-0 record in five starts and 10 relief appearances with a 1.22 earned run average for his career against the Cubs.

BUT THESE ARE the new, improved and ferocious Chicago Cubs and they took Simon apart as if he were Mr. Potato Head.

After Lackey, the Cubs bullpen gave up one hit and one walk over the last 2 1/3 innings. The Reds bullpen gave up four runs, four hits and seven walks.

During spring training, Price and pitching coach Mark Riggins put heavy emphasis on throwing strikes. No walks. Like speed, walks kill.

For the first two games against the Cubs the Reds pitching staff walked 17, seven on Monday and 10 on Wednesday. The Cubs swing at few balls out of the strike zone. They are as patient as a mild-mannered man waiting in line at the DMV.

AS THE SEASON progresses, there will be games like the Reds played against the Phillies and there will be games like they played against the Cubs.

To keep from drowning by the All-Star break, the Reds need to play games the way they played against the Phillies and keep games like they played against the Cubs at a minimum.

And, please, pitching staff. Throw quality strikes.

Can the Reds shake off bullpen disasters?



THE CINCINNATI REDS are two pitches away from being 7-and-0, but the 1960 New York Yankees were one pitch away from winning the World Series until Pittsburgh’s Bill Mazeroski hit the only Game 7 walk-off home run in World Series history.

That, though, is what makes baseball so unpredictable and lovable. And, yes, painful.

The Reds lost their first game this year when J.J. Hoover gave up a grand slam home run to Pittsburgh’s Starling Marte. The Reds lost their second game Monday night when Jumbo Diaz gave up a first-pitch three-run home run to Chicago’s Addison Russell.

WHAT MADE MONDAY’S defeat so agitating is that Reds starter Brandon Finnegan pitched 6 2/3 hitless innings and had a 3-0 lead in the seventh with two outs and nobody on.

When he gave up a two-out bloop single to former Reds catcher David Ross with in the seventh and then walked the next hitter on four pitches, his 111th pitch, manager Bryan Price wisely took him out to preserve his 23-year-old left arm.

But Tony Cingrani gave up a 0-and-2 two-run single to Jason Heyward and the 3-0 lead was now 3-2.

The Reds, though, still led going into the eighth when Cingrani hit a batter and Caleb Cotham walked a hitter. Jumbo came in and gave up a jumbo home run and that was that.

NOW COMES THE major gut check for the young and enthusiastic Reds. They had a swagger and were oozing confidence when they hit Chicago after winning five of their first six games.

And they were playing magnificently for two-thirds of Monday’s game, the home opener for the Cubs in refurbished Wrigley Field.

They constructed that 3-0 lead against Jon Lester that included a stunning home run into the left field basket by Billy Hamilton. Their third run came in the fourth inning. Then from the fifth through the ninth they had two hits and a walk and closer Hector Rendon struck out the side in the ninth.

IT WAS AS IF SOMEBODY drove a stiletto into a gas balloon.

Can a team not highly respected by the pundits shake off disaster or will it have lingering effects, especially on the rest of this difficult trip that has two games remaining in Chicago and three in St. Louis?

Regardless of the bullpen hiccups in those two losses, Price is upbeat over what he is seeing from his patched together rotation that is absent Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, Michael Lorenzen and Jon Moscot. It necessitated him using Robert Stephenson and Tim Melville in their major league debuts and both were exceptional.

“It has been fun,” he said. “We didn’t know what was going to happen when Robert Stephenson took the ball, really, or Finnegan or Raisel Iglesias pitching the opener. And then we come back with Tim Melville and Alfredo Simon in sloppy conditions.

“It has been a challenge for these guys and they’ve really stepped up,” he said. “There is nothing better than having every starting pitcher help the club win ballgames. It is very unifying.”

OF THE OVERALL team, before the road trip began, Price said, “The guys are very relaxed and having fun. Whenever you feel like everyone is pulling for one another, there is something special about that. It is a long season and everybody knows it isn’t going to go as smoothly as they have.”

That smooth road hit a big chuckhole Monday night and the team had a night off Tuesday to do the town in Chicago and forget about what happened Monday, if they can, before Wednesday night’s game

“If we can keep the right frame of mind and the right attitue we can have some success and I think we have the right personnel to do that.”

If, a big if.




What? A big series against the Cubs???

By Hal McCoy

So raise your hand if you thought a series with the Chicago Cubs in mid-April would mean something to the Cincinnati Reds?

Put your hand down, Bryan Price. Your opinion is prejudicial, but understandable.

Hey, whoever thought any series against the Chicago Cubs would mean anything at any point of the season. But these are no longer little cubbies, these are big, bad bears.

AND THE CUBS are doing what most folks believed they would do this year, all the way to the World Series. They are 5-and-1.

Nobody outside the Reds clubhouse thought the Reds would be 5-and-1 at this point and playing a series against the Cubs for first place in the National League Central.

Sure, the sampling is miniscule, but the first week certainly was fun for the Reds and their fans, expecting nothing and getting everything.

The team many thought would lose 95 to 100 games, is populated by a lot of young talent and a lot of strangers. But it is also populated by six fairly seasoned veterans in Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, Zack Cozart, Billy Hamilton and Devin Mesoraco.

AND NOBODY, BUT nobody, would believe the Reds are 5-and-1 with Votto hitting .174, Hamilton hitting .143 and Mesoraco hitting .125.

But there the Reds are, tied with the Cubs for first place, as they open a three-game series tonight in Wrigley Field.

Jay Bruce, so far resurrecting his career with a .391 start to his 2016 season, offered an interesting comment to a question after his game-ending triple in the ninth inning beat the Pittsburgh Pirates, 2-1.

When asked if the fans can expect this team’s success to continue, Bruce’s answer was an answer that permeates the clubhouse: “The fans can expect whatever they want, to be honest. We’re not surprised at all. We were very comfortable with our offense coming into the year. And this is the deepest bench we’ve had since I’ve been here. We have the depth and ability to cover all the spots.”

AND PRICE HAD some interesting remarks about the Reds embarking on a six-game trip to Chicago and St. Louis, beginning tonight in Wrigley, the Cubs home opener.

“We’re looking forward to it,” said Price. “The fans in Chicago always bring energy, no matter what their team is projected to do or not do. It isn’t like they go to the ballpark to boo the Cubs. They love their team, whether they are expected to win the World Series or finish in last place.

“Wherever you go on Opening Day there is electricity, but there may be a bit more in Chicago this year due to the expectations.

“It is good for our club, too,” he added. “Those are fun environments to manage in. There is a lot ruckus. There are high expectations and they are a team expected to compete for the World Series against a team that is not.

“For me, it is fun,” said Price. “I think our guys, guys who are together and love to be in our clubhouse together, guys who fully pull for one another, will like the challenge.”

Whether that is a bunch of bravado and hubris remains to be seen. The answer will be provided over the next six games.

And Price emphasized the attitude he has by saying, “There is no reason for our guys to make things bigger than they are.”

It is much too early to make things too big, but as Bruce said after his game-winning hit Sunday, “Just think small.” And then big things happen.

Bruce thinks small and comes up big

By Hal McCoy

CINCINNATI — Jay Bruce said it was no time to think big, “Just think small.”

And by thinking small, what he did turned out big — a game-ending triple to the right field corner in the bottom of the ninth that scored Brandon Phillips from first base to provide the Cincinnati Reds with a 2-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The Reds are 5-and-1 and in first place and giddy.

The Pittsburgh pitcher facing Bruce in the ninth owns a name that is almost as difficult to spell and pronounce as he is to hit — Arquimedes Caminero.

“I know he throws really, really hard, but he didn’t throw me a lot of fastballs,” said Bruce, who turned on a 2-and-2 pitch. Honestly, I was telling myself to think small, that I didn’t need to do a whole lot. You can’t get big there because he throws so hard.

“With two strikes, it is time to just make contact because he has really, really good stuff,” Bruce added. “He has a 94 miles an hour cutter that is really a slider and he a split-finger that’s 90 and a fastball that’s 100. You have to respect that and take what he gives you and it worked out.”

AND WHAT DID Caminero give him? The 94 mile an hour slider/cutter. Bruce laughed and said, “I think he broke my bat but this time that’s fine with me.”

Bruce had two hits and his batting average is .391, indicating that he may be this year’s Renaissance Man.

“It seems like he is liberated and he is really enjoying himself,” said manager Bryan Price. “I couldn’t be happier for him because it was a hard two years for him, a hard two years for all of us because of the losses. It wasn’t harder for anyone more than Jay because he was trying to do so much to help the club.

TIM MELVILLE MADE his major-league debut on the mound for the Reds and his first warm-pitch banged off the backstop and his second warm-up pitch skittered in the dirt in front of home plate.

Was Melville nervous in his major-league debut? Is peanut butter sticky? Do Krispy Kremes and Starbucks go together? Does Donald Trump have a permanent bad-hair day?

Melville walked the first two Pittsburgh Pirates he faced Sunday afternoon and walked three in the first inning. Nobody scored.

It reminded Price of Mike Leake’s major league debut. He walked the first three Cubs hitters he faced but nobody scored. “Remember that?” said Price. “I wonder who that pitching coach was who went out and settled Leake down?” Price, of course, was the Reds pitching coach at the time.

THE PIRATES PUT TWO on in the fourth. Nobody scored.

Melville pitched four innings, 92 pitches worth, and he put nine men on base. Only one scored and that was a solo home run in the second by catcher Chris Stewart, his first home run since 2013.

When the game ended and the Pirates had stranded 14 runners, giving them 34 stranded during the three-game series, a Pirates employee was so angry he lost his car keys and left his jacket in the press box. “Just terrible at bats, so many bad at bats,” he said.

OF HIS PERFORMANCE, Melville said, “Yeah, a lot of nerves and butterflies. This is one of those moments when it is not a dream any more. It is real life. I’m ready to move forward after this first one.”

Melville was told of Leake’s three-walk debut against the Chicago Cubs and he said, “Wow. It happens to the best of them. I’m not saying it’s OK. You have to throw strikes. After I walked the first two I just told myself to get back to my game plan, strike one, focus in on the next pitch instead of dwelling on the last walk.”

That 1-0 deficit stayed at 1-0 until Eugenio Suarez led the sixth inning with an opposite field home run, his fourth home run in six games, to tie it, 1-1.

REDS GENERAL MANAGER Walt Jockey may have made the steal of the century when he acquired Suarez from Detroit last July for pitcher Alfredo Simon. And now that Simon is back with Cincinnati, the Reds basically got Suarez for nothing.

And what a find. He has moved from shortstop to third base and is not only hitting home runs but batting for a high average (.435 with three hits Sunday) and drawings walks.

“Remember after we started playing him at shortstop last year when he had a series of games where he was throwing a lot balls away?” said Price. “I knew that beat him up a lot because he is a sure-handed guy with an accurate throwing arm. He got through that and that showed me he was mentally tough. He hit, but that period on defense was the biggest challenge he had last year and he worked through it.

“Seeing him transition to third base (from shortstop) this spring so comfortably gave me the confidence that he has it, he has the ‘it’ factor — the ability to change positions and play it flawlessly and his hitting is just getting better and better.”

Said Suarerz, “I am not surprised that I am hitting, but I am surprised by the home runs. But my body feels strong. All I care about is helping the team. That’s why I didn’t care about moving to third base. I knew it would help the team.”

PRICE, OF COURSE, is enamored over everything he is seeing from the 24-year-old Venezuelan.

“That home run to right field? Wasn’t that something to see?” said Price. “I’m admiring that he’ll drive the ball that way, but the pitches he has laid off is special. Have you noticed the pitches that he is laying off? He isn’t taking big, free swings at pitches outside the zone. If you make a good pitch tight on him he is not going to swing and try to force the action. That’s what happens when hitters are really feeling good. They allow themselves to wait for a good pitch to hit to be presented to them.”

The bullpen, again, presented itself stylistically, too. After Melville left, Dan Straily made his Reds debut with three hitless innings (one walk, three strikeouts), Jumbo Diaz furnished a scoreless inning and Ross Ohlendorf recorded his second win with a scoreless ninth inning despite giving up two hits.

Dear Raisel: ‘Be big, be strong, be better’

By Hal McCoy

CINCINNATI — Ann Landers, the purveyor of advice, once told somebody: “Expect trouble as an inevitable part of life, and when it comes, hold your head high, look it squarely in the eye and say, ‘I will be bigger than you. You cannot defeat me.’”

There is no record of Cincinnati Reds pitchers Raisel Iglesias and/or Blake Wood ever sending a letter to Ann Landers, but that piece of advice she gave somebody fits snugly into what Iglesias and Wood did Saturday afternoon against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Iglesias was in more trouble than an aquarium of lobster in a seafood restaurant most of the day, but he held his head high, looked adversity straight in the eye showed the Pirates that, on this frigid afternoon, he was better than they are.

And he was better for 5 2/3 innings Saturday afternoon, escaping several potential mishaps before he finally need somebody else’s help in the sixth inning to preserve his 5-1 victory over the Pirates.

The 26-year-old Cuban defector, who faced at least one base runner in every inning, retired the first two Pirates in the sixth, trying to protect his 3-0 lead, but gave up a walk and a couple of hits for a run before Blake Wood arrived to retire Jordy Mercer on a foul pop.

Iglesias gave up one run, eight hits, walked two and struck out five over his 5 2/3 innings and stopped Pittsburgh’s four-game winning streak.

The first two Pirates in the second reached base but Iglesias wiggled loose when Mercer lined into an inning-ending double play.

The Pirates had the bases loaded with one out in the fourth inning and this time Mercer grounded into an inning-ending double play.

Then it was Wood’s turn to duck disaster. He walked pinch-hitter Matt Joyce to open the seventh and John Jaso doubled, giving the Pirates runners on second and third with no outs. trailing by just two runs..

Andrew McCutcheon grounded to the first base bag and Joey Votto grabbed it and tapped first. Then he whipped a throw to second that caught Jaso off the base and, after a three-minute umpiring review, Jaso was called out. Wood completed the squirm-free inning by striking out David Freese.

Iglesias struck out Freese three straight times before Wood got him, and on Freese’s first at-bat he went down looking at three straight sliders.

Of the constant turmoil on the base paths behind him, Iglesias said, “Oh, si. I just kept trying to keep my pitches down and go as far as I could to keep the relievers out of the game, tried to help the bullpen.”

The defense? Oh, the defense that protected him better than Pinkerton, especially with the two double plays and Votto’s cerebral play.

“The defense was amazing today and helped me out more than a lot,” he said. “That was a huge thing that helped me get my victory today.”

The Reds scored two in the first inning when the first three batters reached base against Gerrit Cole. Billy Hamilton, batting leadoff for the first time this season, poked a double to left and quickly scored on Eugenio Suarez’s single to right.

Joey Votto singled and with one out Jay Bruce singled home Suarez to make it 2-0. The Reds pushed it to 3-0 in the fifth on a walk to Suarez and singles by Votto and Brandon Phillips.

Suarez put the exclamation point to the afternoon by slashing his third home run of the season off left hander Kyle Lobstein, a two-run 425-footer than crash-landed on the grass beyond the center field wall.

Former Reds manager and special advisor Lou Piniella witnessed the first five games during which Suarez hit three home runs and said, “I love that kid. The ball jumps off his bat.”

Suarez came to the Reds last year when Alfredo Simon was traded to Detroit and now that Simon is back with the Reds it was a clean steal for general manager Walt Jocketty. When told how Jocketty got Suarez and then got back Simon, Piniella smiled and said, “Well, they’re both keepers.”

The home runs are nifty, but Price loves the defense that Suarez is showing at third base after moving there this season from shortstop. And he admires some of the plate discipline and base hits that are not home runs.

“Suarez hits good pitching,” said Price. “He doesn’t just clean up on the soft tossers. He hits the guys with legitimate stuff.

“He has grinded out some really important walks these first five games,” said Price. “He is driving the ball hard to right center. It is not just a bunch of pull homers, but at times he is staying in the middle of he diamond. He is a guy I can hit-and-run with if need be. He does all the little things that’s need to be done.”
Everybody feels sorry for the poor pitchers on cold, windy days. But Price believes even on the bitterest of days the pitcher is the warmest guy on the field.

“There are a lot of things a pitcher can do and No. 1 is keeping your hand warm and your body warm between innings,” said Price. “The advantage of being a starting pitcher is that you should be the warmest guy on the field. You warm up before you take the field, you go on the field and run, you long toss, you get on the bullpen mound and throw a 30 to 40-pitch pre-game warm-up.

“The key is not to let yourself cool down and that means to put a jacket on between innings, go back in the clubhouse, get on a stationary bike, go into the batting cage and throw to keep your arm loose and warm,” said Price. “Once your hands get cold the tendency is to lose feel for the ball on your fingertips.”

Iglesias acknowledged that it never gets this cold in Cuba and they don’t play baseball in 38-degree weather. So how did he handle it?

“It was really hard because this weather is something new for me,” he said. “Every time I was in the dugout I was walking around and jumping up and down in order to keep my body warm.”

The best thing he did, though, was cool off the Pirates every time it seemed as if they might get hot.