By Hal McCoy
It was the perfect preparation for their difficult upcoming assignment for the Cincinnati Reds.
Their next examination is against the Milwaukee Brewers in Milwaukee Monday, Tuesday and Wednesay.
And first place in the National League Central is the carrot dangling in front of the Reds.
After completing a three-game sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks Sunday afternoon in Great American Ball Park, 7-3, the Reds are a half-game behind the Brewers.
To accomplishment their assignment of capturing first place, the Reds must turn things around from their dismal performances so far this season against the Brewers.
They are 2-and-9 against the Brew Crew and have lost five straight, three via shutouts. They’ve been outscored, 45-31, and 16 of those runs have come in two games.
And these are the final three games of the season between the Reds and Brewers.
With their victory Sunday, the Reds carted a five-game winning streak aboard their chartered airplane to Milwaukee Sunday night. The sweep of the Diamondbacks, losers in 12 of their lasrt 16, was the first since 2012, when just inducted Hall of Famer Scott Rolen played third base for the Reds.
As has been the case for a long time now, it wa the rookies and the bullpen that carried the day.
The Diamondbacks, like so many teams, are short of starting pitchers and used a bullpen starter, Jose Ruiz, followed by four relief pitchers.
Ironically, the Reds used a normal starter, Luke Weaver, but manager David Bell followed him with six relief pitchers.
Elly De La Cruz, battling a 2 for 31slump, opened the bottom of the first with a mammoth 407-foot home run, only his second since his cycle against the Atlanta Braves June 24.
The Reds gave Weaver a 3-0 lead in the second on a two-out single by Christian Encarnacion and a home run on a full count by Nick Senzel.
Weaver teetered on the edge in the first, third and fourth, but escaped unfettered each time.
He put two on in the first with one out, but got a pair of fly balls. He put three on in the third and had two on with two outs before coaxing another fly ball. He put two on with two outs in the fourth and struck out Alek Thomas.
It all fell apart for him in the sixth, three Arizona runs to tie it, 3-3. Geraldo Perdomo opened with a single and came all the way around on Ketel Marte’s infield hit and first baseman Spencer Steer’s error when he missed Weaver’s throw.
Rookie Corbin Carroll picked on his next pitch and added to his Rookie of the Year credentials by launching a 446-foot home run to dead center, a home run that crashed against the steamboat.
When Christian Walker doubled, Weaver’s day was over — four-plus innings, three runs, eight hits, two walks and Carroll’s second home run in two days.
The procession from the bullpen began — Buck Farmer, Derek Law, Ian Gibaut, Fernando Cruz, Levi Stoudt and Lucas Sims.
And they were up to the challenge for their five innings — no runs, two hits, three walks and seven strikeouts.
The Reds broke the 3-3 tie in the sixth. Matt McLain opened with a single and stole second. . .for a few moments. Replay/Review saw him as out.
Steer then single to left and came around to score on Jake Fraley’s double. Fraley was thrown out trying to expand the double to a triple, but the Reds had a 4-3 lead.
The Reds put it away with a three-run uprising in the eighth. TJ Friedl opened with a single and took third on McLain’s single. Steer singled home Friedl, Jonathan India walked and CES ripped a two-run single and the 4-3 lead expanded to 7-3.
The D-Backs, known around Phoenix as the Answerbacks, had no answer. . .until an uprising in the ninth.
With closer Alexis Diaz unavailable due to three appearances in the last four games, manager David Bell entrusted the four-run lead to Levi Stoudt. On this day, in Levi Stoudt they didn’t trust.
He gave up a leadoff triple to Geraldo Perdomo and a walk to Marte, who was on base five times with two singles and three walks.
He struck out Carroll, but Bell went to Lucas Sims. He walked Walker to fill the bases with one out and the potential tying run walked to the plate, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. He led the D-backs in hitting into double plays with 12.
Make it 13. He hit into a McLain to India to Steer game-ending double play.
The Youngsters — Friedl, McLain, Steer and CES, plus No. 3 catcher Luke Maile — each had two hits. Steer scored two and CES drove in two.
So now it is on the Milwaukee and the Reds roll into town on five straight high notes.