CINCINNATI — Suddenly, the Cincinnati Reds pitching staff, both starters and the bullpenners, resemble something out of Atlanta-Fulton County Stadium in the 1990s.
Manager Bryan Price keeps getting asked, “What happened? What turned things around?”’
There are several answers as to why the pitching staff is no longer the National League’s punching bag.
—They didn’t have starter Anthony DeSclafani for the first half of the season due to an oblique injury. Since his return he is 5-and-0.
—They didn’t have Raisel Iglesias, who was the Opening Day starter before shoulder miseries put him on the disabled list. Since he returned, residing in the bullpen, he has nearly been unhittable.
—They didn’t have Michael Lorenzen, another projected starter who suffered shoulder problems and then contracted mononucleosis at the end of spring traing. He just recently returned and is a mirror-image of Iglesias in the bullpen, nearly unhittalbe.
—And the biggie? The schedule. Since the All-Star break the Reds have played teams of their own low level — Milwaukee, Atlanta and Arizona.
SO IT IS INVIGORATING to see the Reds start the second half 6-and-2 and win three straight series for the first time since July of 2014. But let’s not get overly pumped up, not get the optimism out of whack.
But it is different to talk about something positive, other than Adam Duvall or Jay Bruce or Billy Hamilton’s resurgence.
One thing Price doesn’t want to hear is that the firing of pitching coach Mark Riggins turned it around. Asked if a new philosophy and new voices (pitching coaches Mack Jenkins and Ted Power) is the difference, Price quickly said, “No. Not at all. Mark Riggins did a great job.”
“We’ve gotten to the point where there is some cohesiveness from a pitching standpoint,” said Price. “Anthony DeSclafani has given us some real good starts and Cody Reed (0-and-5) had his first real good start in his last outing, six innings of two-run baseball.
“Dan Straily has had a couple of real good performances,” Price added. “Then Keyvius Sampson (Saturday) pitches a strong game into the fifth inning when he hasn’t pitched as a starter in weeks.
“It has just been a series of good competitive starts recently,” he said. “We haven’t been down three or four runs early in games.”
PRICE ALSO MENTIONED that the position players have stepped it up to aid and abet the pitchers — getting on base more, hitting with runners in scoring position and playing defense. “It is just playing better baseball. That was our goal coming into the second half after a downer in Miami (three straight losses) to end the first half,” he said
“We do recognize that the pitching is getting better and we are beginning to see that and we’re capable of playing better and the guys have really answered the bell on that goal.”
The Reds finish their Walk Through the Weak today with the final game of the homestand against the reeling Diamondbacks.
Then the real test begins, a real challenge to see if the pitching continues to stabilize.
The Reds play 15 of their next 18 on the road, where victories are harder to find than a $100 bill in a college student’s wallet. They make stops in San Francisco, a team that has stumbled out of the second half gate like a thoroughbred that has lost its jockey, and a below average team in San Diego.
Then after three home games against the resurgent St. Louis Cardinals, they hit the road again to play Pittsburgh, St. Louis and Milwaukee.
If the pitching staff can survive that precarious gauntlet, then there will be something to talk about and something to get excited about.
By the way, in our continuing personal version of Where’s Waldo, I once again again ask, “Where’s Robert Stephenson?”