June 2011

Winning series, .500 road trip

There were some smiling faces and relaxed dudes in the Reds clubhouse and they earned it with a 4-3 victory over the Rays on Wednesday.

That meant a winning series, two of three.

That meant a .500 road trip at 3-3.

The trip featured two walk-off losses on home runs and a two-run defeat. Tampa Bay pitchers — Jeremy Hellickson, David Price and James Shields — gave the Reds all they could handle and combined for 31 strikeouts.

But the Reds tandem of Mike Leake, Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez were as good or better.

Two-out hits were huge today — Ryan Hanigan’s three-run homer in the fourth and Fred Lewis’ RBI single in the seventh were the the game offensively.

 “Hopefully, we’re close here to making a run,” Hanigan said. “We’re starting to play better baseball. I think guys are healthy and I think if few things go right for us, we can make a little push here.”
 

Notes:

*Nice afternoon for Volquez, who worked 6 1/3 innings and gave up three runs, four hits and three walks with seven strikeouts. He had no hits allowed through four innings and retired 11 of the first 13 he faced and 15 of 18.

*Two relievers that were  left frustrated last night — Logan Ondrusek and Bill Bray — bounced back very well today with a combined 1 2/3 scoreless innings.

*Hanigan’s home run was his third of the season and first since he hit his other two on April 3.

*Tough day for Jay Bruce, who got the “golden sombrero” with 0-for-4, four strikeouts game.

*The Reds were not pleased with the work of home plate umpire Angel Hernandez. Dusty Baker had a long and animated talk with Hernandez after Drew Stubbs had a check-swing strikeout in the second inning. Leading off the eighth, Joey Votto was called out on strikes on a pitch that sailed over the other batter’s box. Votto argued pretty intensely but was spared an ejection when Baker intervened. He knew the club could not afford to lose Votto from the game.

*The Rays are 1-8 all time against the Reds.

*Rays DH Johnny Damon received a standing ovation after his sixth-inning single. It was career hit 2,654 and tied him with Ted Williams for 71st all-time.

Quotes:

“Big series win. We played good baseball this series, all the way through. We had three tough guys we faced. I thought we did a good job against Price even though he pitched well. We got him late and fell behind and came back, which shows a lot of character for this team. Today with Shields, we got the lead and never gave it up.” –  Ryan Hanigan

“Me and Brook [Jacoby] have been working on keeping my hands in tight and getting to my strong point and driving the ball. Basically, I just worked the count and got a good pitch to hit. Volquez kept us in the game. Hanigan had a great day at the plate. We played good defense.” — Fred Lewis

“We played a very good series and they played a good series. I’ll tell you, they’ve got some good pitching over there too. Especially the last couple of days, we faced some of the best pitching we’re going to see. You see why they are where they are and you can see why we’re getting to where we’re trying to get to.” — Dusty Baker

“You can’t walk guys out there, especially two guys in a row with no outs and put runners on first and second. I did a good job with guys on first and third to strike the guy out there and I left the ball over the plate to Freddy Lewis and I think that if I get that ball where I wanted it, I end that inning with no runs.” — Rays starter James Shields, who struck out 10 over seven innings.

Quick turnaround at The Trop

Reds lineup vs. Rays

Lewis 7
Phillips 4
Votto 3
Rolen 5
Bruce 9
Gomes DH
Hanigan 2
Stubbs 8
Janish 6

Volquez RHP
 

*Bothered by a sore back for the last few days, Ryan Hanigan is back in the lineup as the club hoped.

*Big game today because a win can mean a .500 road trip (3-3). The Reds are 4-7 so far during this stretch against AL East teams — TOR, NYY, BAL, TB.

*Do not forget that Saturday’s game vs. the Indians was moved to 4:10 p.m. ET from the original 7:10 p.m. start.

*Jamie Ramsey of Better off Red and the Reds are hosting a Vote Red Lunch from 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. in the GABP Champions Club. Pizza and laptops will be provided if you would like to submit votes for the All-Star game. You can also bring your own laptop.

Tough play in no-man’s land

Obviously, Evan Longoria’s walk-off homer in the ninth doomed the Reds to a 4-3 loss in the bottom of the ninth. But the play of the night came in the bottom of the eighth, and was the bad luck that’s often bitten Cincinnati this season.

In a brilliant night of pitching, Johnny Cueto had worked 7 2/3 innings and was in line for a 2-1 win when he left, even after he gave up back-to-back one-out singles in the eighth. After Cueto got the second out, Bill Bray got the ball. Bray got the optimum result with a pop up off the end of his bat.

Left fielder Chris Heisey, shortstop Edgar Renteria and center fielder Drew Stubbs all made efforts to reach the ball in short left-center field…essentially no-man’s land.

Renteria was headed back on the ball and yielded as he saw Heisey coming in full steam. Heisey made a diving attempt and in the worst luck possible — the ball shot off the end of his glove into center field. It allowed two runs to score.

On Twitter, fans were all over Renteria for not making the catch and said Paul Janish would have had it. I know Janish is a superior defensive player over Renteria but it’s hard to assume anybody can make a tough over the shoulder catch on a play like that. And second, it was significant that Renteria gave way to Heisey, who was running in. It was just an unfortunate play.

“It hit the tip of my glove,” Heisey said. “I needed another two inches or so to get my glove underneath it but I did all I could.Sometimes that happens. It was just perfect placement. I was even playing way in on him and he snuck it in there. He hit it off the end and it didn’t stay in the air long enough for the three of us to get underneath it.”

Dusty Baker believed that Renteria had a hard time tracking the ball in the lights.

“I thought Heisey had a chance to catch it, it was real close, very close,” Baker said. “The ball just shot out of there like a cannon on that Astroturf. It’s going to roll and didn’t stop like it usually does on grass.”

Notes:

*Save for Saturday’s two-homer game, Joey Votto hasn’t been hot lately. But his two-run double in the top of the eighth was another huge hit. It’s why he leads the league in hitting RISP.

*As the Reds were down 3-2 following Damon’s good luck, Jay Bruce also came up big. He snapped an 84 at-bat homerless streak with a long ball to center field off Kyle Farnsworth. This season, Farnsworth has had a renaissance with a 1.99 ERA coming in 16 saves in 17 chances.

*The Reds have been dealt two losses on walk-off homers this season — both on this road trip. Remember Derrek Lee doing them in on Friday in Baltimore during the 12th inning?

*The Reds are 11-17 this season in one-run games. They were 27-27 in those in 2010. Games like tonight are the ones they seemed to always win last year.

*Another spectacular night for Cueto — 7 2/3 ip, 4 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 6 K. The owner of a 1.84 ERA Cueto has not allowed more than three runs in any of his 10 starts. He’s given up more than two earned runs only three times. And here’s a cool stat: Opposition hitters are 0-for-19 RISP against Cueto in his last four games.

Quotes:

“He’s a good pitcher as I am. I don’t see him, I just go there and pitch. I’m a good pitcher. Cairo was messing around with me before the game and said ‘hey, when you pitch, you’re going to pitch against Price.’ I said ‘he’s going to pitch against Cueto.’ I’m a good pitcher. I’m going to pitch my game and he’s going to have to pitch his game.” — Johnny Cueto on facing David Price

“I felt good. It was a good game. Cueto was on point and tough to hit. … Cueto threw extremely well, so it was a good game.” — David Price

“These are certainly tough to take. We’ve had a few of these, especially on the road. We’ll get over that hump some day. We played a great game. It was great game to watch.” — Dusty Baker

“Kyle, this guy has been money, this guy has been great,” Maddon said. “Full count, I think the cutter did not get where he wanted it to cut. It looked, obviously, like he left it over the plate more. He’s really good at getting it in on the lefties, he left it over the plate [against Bruce].” — Rays manager Joe Maddon

Cueto vs Price

Reds lineup vs Rays

Heisey 7
Phillips 4
Votto 3,
Rolen 5,
Bruce 9,
Gomes DH,
Hernandez 2,
Stubbs 8,
Renteria 6

Cueto RHP

 

* This should be a nice matchup of starting pitchers tonight. Obviously, Cueto is as hot as it gets right now with a 1.63 ERA in nine starts and a 0.96 ERA in four June starts. David Price’s numbers haven’t been stupendous with an 8-6 record and 3.51 ERA, but he’s still a top-notch left-hander. LH hitters are batting .170 against him vs. .248 for RH batters.

*Brandon Phillips turned 30 years old today. It’s also a birthday for bench coach Chris Speier, who turned 61.

Smooth 5-0 blanking of Rays

As far as games go, the Reds could not have asked for one to go much better or smoother. They were more than pleased to leave Monday with a 5-0 win.

“First day into a new city, pretty much for a lot of guys, [the Rays] had just come off a great series in Houston, swinging the bat well and pitching well,” Jonny Gomes said. “It all starts with Mike Leake. Pitching and defense win you a lot of games.”

Leake provided 6 ip, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 3 K….99 pitches/57 strikes.  He is 4-2 with a 2.49 ERA in seven games since returning from Triple-A Louisville.
 

Notes:

*Another strong night for Brandon Phillips — 4-for-5, 2 RBIs. Phillips has multiple-hit days in six of his last seven games. His average is up to .299.

*Pregame, I was curious about the Tropicana Field catwalks. Gomes appeared to be the right guy to take care of that. He went deep to left field for a homer off of the catwalk over left field leading off in the fifth inning. It was Gomes’ ninth career homer off the catwalks. He was tied for the Rays team record with eight catwalk shots.

*I saw something you don’t see often…a runner called out for passing a teammate on the bases. It happened in sixth when Evan Longoria passed Ben Zobrist at second base on Matt Joyce’s fly ball to Fred Lewis. It was huge break for Leake, who started the inning with runners on first and second with no outs. Zobrist, who tagged up on the play, was left stranded at third base. If you’re scoring at home, it’s a flyout 7 on Joyce and 6 unassisted for the Longoria out.

*Nice middle relief from Sam LeCure, who allowed one hit over a scoreless seventh and eighth innings.

*Like many managers, Dusty Baker didn’t see everything through rose-colored glasses. He pointed out some missed chances as the Reds went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position and stranded eight runners.

“We still could have tacked on a few more runs, which is something we’re still in the process of learning,” Baker said. “To throw the knockout punch when you get them.”

*The Rays winless lifetime vs Reds (0-7).

*I learned who DJ Kitty was for the first time.

Quotes:

“It was a good opportunity to show the Reds the guidelines on the catwalk.” — Jonny Gomes on his home run.

“The results are showing up, and I’m happy it’s finally showing. I’m trying to stay positive and keep grinding. I talked to my Dad, looked at some old video and decided to go back to my old ways go up there and drive the ball instead of just guide it. It’s paying off. I’m just going to stick with that.” — Brandon Phillips

“I didn’t put any balls over the middle, maybe just one or two. Luckily they didn’t do anything with them.  I was just nibbling a little too much and a little more side-to-side with my mechanics than normal.” — Mike Leake

“He’s an absolute pitcher. He knows what he’s doing out there. He knows how to change speeds and he can throw a strike when he wants to. … I can understand why he has been successful.” — Rays manager Joe Maddon on Leake

“That was a double play that we’ll take. It’s probably something you’ll never see Longoria do again. That ball did look like it was in the game. Freddy closed the gap pretty quickly and made a fine running play.” — Dusty Baker on the Longoria base running gaffe.

Bruce in, Gomes returns to TB

It might be hot and muggy outside….and I really mean muggy…but we are indoors at Tropicana Field. This might be 11th season on a team beat, but this is my first ever visit inside this particular venue.

I’m curious to see how often the infamous catwalks come into play here. I’m just thankful that it will be comfortable and there is a guarantee of no rain delays.

Reds lineup vs. Rays

Lewis 7
Phillips 4
Votto 3
Rolen 5
Bruce 9
Gomes DH
Hernandez 2
Stubbs 8
Janish 6

Leake 1

*Catcher Ryan Hanigan is out for the second-straight game, one that he might have caught with Leake on the mound. He’s been bothered by a back strain for about a week.

“We’re doing what we can to let it calm down,” Hanigan said. “It’s spasming. I could play if I had to. We’re letting it cool down because it hasn’t been getting better.”

*Jay Bruce is back in the lineup after being sick yesterday. Bruce was given some antibiotics but there was no real explanation of the illness he had. Whatever it was, it seems to have passed.

“I’m a little tired but I feel good today,” Bruce said.

*Jonny Gomes was in the Rays organization from 2003-08. In 2005, he set the club’s rookie home run record with 21. It’s since been surpassed by Evan Longoria. Gomes is meeting the local media here this afternoon. I’m sure he will be well received by the fans tonight.
 
Jonny Gomes speaks with Tampa Bay area media.
 

Stuck in neutral

 Why does it seem like the Reds go one step forward and two steps back a lot? Because of games like Sunday’s 7-5 loss.

The Reds were in this game, even after trailing 5-0 through four innings. But they kept missing the big opportunity parked on their laps — going 1-for-11 RISP and stranding 14.

“We had plenty of action,” manager Dusty Baker said. “From the opening inning, we couldn’t get the one or two big hits. And Markakis got two two-out hits. That was big and kind of the ballgame in a nutshell.”

The Reds are mired in fourth place at one game over .500 (40-39) and four games out of first place. They have claimed one of the last five series and have dropped the last three in Interleague.

It’s not doomsday time at all in a weak and winnable NL Central, but if the Brewers start to take off, the Reds better show they are ready to keep up. Although they show moments of breaking out, like on Saturday, they’re not catching that consistent spark and putting back-to-back wins together … and that’s troubling.

Notes:

*Brandon Phillips fifth-inning solo home run was his first since May 14. By going 2-for-4, Phillips is third in the NL with 28 multi-hit games.

*In the fourth inning, Joey Votto and the rest of the infield seemed to lose an Adam Jones routine pop up in the sun. Homer Bailey made a desperation dive, but it landed for a single. Bailey was pitching pretty well up to that point, but it was the start of a four-run inning and it was tough sledding from there for Bailey.

*Bailey finished with five runs on a season-high nine hits with two walks, five strikeouts and two home runs.

*The Reds missed a chance to take the lead in the sixth after sending nine to the plate. Four-straight walks from three different Baltimore pitchers helped and walks to Gomes and Lewis forced in two runs. Jim Johnson threw nine of 11 pitches for balls, before Drew Stubbs hit a 1-0pitch for an inning-ending fielder’s choice. It might have been a good time to take and force Johnson into a corner again.

*Jose Arredondo walked the first batter of the Orioles’ sixth inning and Blake Davis later scored on Nick Markakis’ two-out single. Arredondo has retired 11 of 21 first batters faced this season, but only two in his last nine appearances.

*The two teams combined for 13 walks today. Joey Votto drew three walks as Baltimore worked around him, not letting repeat his strong Saturday game.

Quotes:

“We have to keep treading water until you start swimming. It’s not through lack of effort. We’re in every ballgame. We’re so close to taking off. You feel it. You see it. We’re one hit away, one play away or one something away from winning almost every game.” — Dusty Baker

“After that happened, I left the ball a little bit up to Guerrero. The pitch I threw Lee was exactly where I wanted it to go. He either guessed right or it was what he was looking for. After the ball leaves my hand, I only have so much control. I threw it where I wanted it to go and he hit it out.” — Homer Bailey on the missed pop-up and subsqequent damage.

“I’m not going to say it’s a tough loss. It’s a sad loss because I feel like we’re better than that. We have the players on our team that can go out there and win. Right now, it’s just not our time. I hope that we pick it up and learn from the mistakes and come through when we need to come through.” — Brandon Phillips

“Baseball is a game of ups and downs. Right now, we’re just in between. Yesterday, we were hitting the ball out of the park. Today, we can’t get key hits in key situations.” — more Phillips

“Ran some high counts and unfortunately I ran out of rope at the end of the game. But that last inning was frustrating. I thought I made a good pitch on Heisey and he kind of flipped it into right field with two outs. Then I tried to be careful with B Phillips and ended up walking him. That’s a frustrating way to end the outing, but overall i felt I was able to throw my pitches where I was trying to for the most part.” — Orioles starter Jeremy Guthrie

 

Bruce gets a rest

 Reds lineup vs. Orioles

Heisey 9
Phillips 4
Votto 3
Gomes DH
Lewis 7
Stubbs 8
Hernandez 2
Cairo 5
Janish 6

Bailey 1

*Jay Bruce is 2-for-10 in the series so far, including a 0-for-5, 3 strikeout game last night. Not surprised he’s getting a break.

**UPDATE - Bruce is sick today. He was wearing a hooded sweatshirt in the clubhouse and looking rather lousy. He was going to see the Orioles team doctor to find out what he has.

“I don’t feel good this morning,” Bruce said. “I felt perfectly fine last night. But when I got back to the hotel and went to bed, I caught a chill and couldn’t shake it.”

“We’re going to find a place to quarantine him if he’s contagious so he doesn’t get anyone else sick,” Reds manager Dusty Baker said.

*As expected, RHP Homer Bailey was activated from the 15-day disabled list to make the start today. To make room on the roster, Carlos Fisher was optioned to Triple-A Louisville.

*In the last 18 games, Reds pitchers are 10-8 with a 2.82 ERA, with the starters 10-5 with a 3.03 ERA.

*Joey Votto became the eighth Canadian born playuer to reach the 100 career home run milestone last night. The other seven are: Larry Walker (383), Matt Stairs (165), Jeff Heath (194), Jason Bay (193), Justin Morneau (185), Corey Koskie (124) and George Selkirk (108).

Votto in a slump

Reds lineup vs. Orioles

Heisey 7
Phillips 4
Votto 3
Rolen 5
Bruce 9
Gomes DH
Stubbs 8
Renteria 6
Hanigan 2
Arroyo 1

*Although he often gets that big clutch hit when the Reds really need it, Joey Votto hasn’t been his usual robust self at the plate. In his last 11 games, Votto is batting .182 (8-for-44) with 11 strikeouts and a .282 OBP. He has also gone nine games without a home run, with the last one coming June 13 at Los Angeles. Might it be time for an off day? Votto last got one on May 9 at Houston and went on a pretty strong tear after that.

***UPDATE – I asked manager Dusty Baker about resting Votto sometime soon and there are no plans to do it, especially with the tough teams ahead on the schedule — Tampa Bay, Cleveland, St. Louis and Milwaukee.

“Now is the time you dig deep and try to play through the [All-Star] break. I thought about it,” Baker said. “He’s just off. He’s not tired. They’re pitching him tough. The American League clubs are pitching him real tough. He may be frustrated but he’s not physically tired. One thing is he’s showing he’s human. Sometimes you forget that stars are human and capable of ups and downs. We’ve just been so spoiled because he has very few extended down periods. I wouldn’t mind being down and hitting .318. One thing for sure is you know he’s going to get hot again. Count on it.”

Votto, who was the ballpark early today doing extra work, said that some technical glitches in his swing have been spotted by Baker, hitting coach Brook Jacoby and even teammate Edgar Renteria noticed something.

“It’s hard for me, even watching video, to see some of the technical mistakes I’m making,” Votto said. “But luckily I have some good people surrounding me and they’ve pointed out some things that were off a little bit with my swing and causing me to miss a lot of the pitches I’ve been given lately. Over the past month, I’ve been getting plenty of pitches to hit. I haven’t been taking advantage of them. It’s a mechanical thing. It’s my fault.

“You have some many components to success. For hitting a baseball, for hitting success, those smaller adjustments can really make a big difference. I kept scratching my head wondering what the hell is going on? Why am I not driving the ball? Why am I missing certain pitches I wasn’t missing before? It helps when you’ve got good eyes on you. It takes time. This will pass. With or without their help, I’m going to get through this.”
 

*By a .001 percentage point. the Reds are in fourth place for the first time this season and behind the Pirates.

*The Reds’ first-inning ERA of 6.66 (77ip, 57er) ranks 29th in the Majors, behind only the Royals (6.81, 75.1ip, 57er)

*At Triple-A Louisville, Dontrelle Willis pitched eight innings and allowed four runs and eight hits with no walks and seven strikeouts for a 5-4 win over Toledo last night. In 12 starts, Willis is 5-2 with a 2.74 ERA, 19 walks and 61 strikeouts.

Rolen 4th, Bruce 5th

This will be the Reds first visit this weekend at Camden Yards, but it won’t be mine. I’ve been here a few times while covering the Twins. When the weather is pleasant, it’s rather nice city and ballpark to be in and walk around.

But I’ve also been here in August and I will go on record that I have never been so hot nor have sweated so much in my life than when I was here at that time of year. That was the only time I ever left the press box postgame and returned to the air conditioned hotel room to write my game stories. (I know, real problems, right?)

Baltimore is muggier than St. Louis or Cincinnati combined. If you want to see yourself sweat, visit here in the summer. (Good chamber of commerce message, isn’t it?)

Without further adieu…

Reds lineup vs. Orioles

Heisey 7
Phillips 4
Votto 3
Rolen 5
Bruce 9
Gomes DH
Stubbs 8
Hernandez 2
Janish 6
Volquez RHP

*Jim Kelch can back me up on this since we discussed it at lunch today…but I was wondering if Dusty Baker would move Bruce out of the cleanup spot with the way he’s been slumping and the way Rolen has come on. Bruce is batting .235 since moving to the fourth spot. He’s a .317 hitter in the fifth spot.

*Meanwhile, Rolen has seven RBIs over his last nine games, seven extra base hits in his last 11 games and batting .355 (11-for-31) over his last eight games.

*After a three homer game on Wednesday night, was there any other place for Heisey to be than starting and leading off?

*Reds DHs are batting .083 (1-for-12) this season. Jonny Gomes accounts for 0-for-8 when he was in the depths of his slump in Cleveland last month. He’s been hitting a lot better lately, so having his bat and Heisey’s should be a boost. We’ll see.

*The Reds have listed Homer Bailey as their starter for Sunday. That was expected, but not formally mentioned until today.

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