By Hal McCoy
For the first four games of the 2023 season, the Cincinnati Reds bullpen was dead, solid and nearly perfect — three earned runs in 16 1//3 innngs and no damage done.
That all changed and evaporated Tuesday night in Great American Ball Park. The bullpen completely collapsed during a 12-5 loss to the Chicago Cubs.
Reds starter Luis Cessa turned over a 3-1 lead to the bullpen with one out and a runner on second in the sixth inning.
Then came a tsunami of runs. Over the final 3 2/3 innings, four Cincinnati relief pitchers gave up 11 runs.
The Cubs scored a run in the sixth on Eric Hosmer’s single, cutting the Reds lead to 3-2.
The seventh was mass mayhem. Neither Buck Farmer nor Reiver Sanmartin retired a batter as the Cubs scored six times to put the game away and end Cincinnati’s three-game winning streak.
Farmer gave up a double to Nico Hoerner, walked Dansby Swanson, gave up a game-tying double to Ian Happ.
Sanmartin replaced Farmer and walked Cody Bellinger to fill the bases. Trey Mancini singled to push the Cubs ahead. Patrick Wisdom singled for two runs.
Another runner reached on second baseman Jonathan India’s error. That was seven straight Cubs to reach base. Joel Kuhnel came on and got two outs on one pitch, a double play, but another run scored.
Done? Not yet. With two outs, Myles Mastrobuoni singled for a run and stole second. That was it. . .six runs, five hits, two walks and an error and the Cubs led, 8-3.
Done? Not yet. The Cubs scored three more off Kuhnel in the eighth on a two-run double by Patrick Wisdom.
Done? Not yet. The Cubs added a run in the ninth on Hoerner’s single, stolen base and Happ’s single.
Done? Yes, the Reds were more than done.
The Cubs scored a run off Cessa in the first when they loaded the bases but scored only on Trey Mancini’s sacrifice fly.
The Reds matched it in the bottom of the first when Jonathan India led with a double, was bunted to third by TJ Friedl and scored on Spencer Steer’s single.
Then the Reds unveiled their best weapon so far this season, the long ball. Friedl broke the 1-1 tie with his second home run with one out in the second.
And what’s a Reds’ game without something big from Jason Vosler. He clubbed his third home run with one out in the fourth and that was the 3-1 lead the bulllpen couldn’t hold.
The Reds didn’t score again until the eighth when India singled and Stuart Fairchild hit a first-pitch pinch-hit home run. He was batted for Friedl who left the game with shoulder issues after running full-bore into the wall chasing Wisdom’s double in the seventh.
The Reds have hit 10 home runs in their first five games.
Three of the first four Cubs reached base in the first against Cessa, but he worked out of it and was solid the rest of the way, with some Gold Glove defense against by shortstop Kevin Newman, first baseman Jason Vosler and left fielder Will Benson.
Benson made a spectacular snag of a foul ball, bending over the wall to bring the ball back. His offense, though is lingering at 0 for 12 with nine strikeouts.
“Cessa pitched a really solid game,” said manager David Bell. “He definitely gave us an opportunity to win it. We just weren’t able to hold on to it. After the first four hitters, Cessa found his location, didn’t miss in the middle very often.
“He had a really good change-up and slider,” Bell added. “To get that deep in the game when he didn’t get built up much in spring training as our other starters. . .a really solid start.”
And the bullpen?
“A lot of those guys pitched yesterday (Farmer in four of the five games),” said Bell. “They’re getting into the demands of the early season. They have pitched well. And they’ve all pitched quite a bit and it is something we have to monitor.
After Cessa held the Cubs to two runs and four hits over 5 1/3 innings, the Cubs finished with 16 hits. The Reds hit three home runs, the Cubs hit none. They didn’t need one.
Cody Bellinger, 1 for 15 when the night began, went 3 for 5. Wisdom had three hits and drove in three runs. Ian Happ, as always, was a severe pain to the Reds — four hits and two walks, reaching base five of six plate appearances. Wisdom had three hits and drove in three runs.