With dreary eyes and tired bodies, the Cincinnati Reds were pounded on Tuesday night by a ferocious Washington Nationals bunch, 9-4.
Sending Johnny Cueto to the hill is the equivalent of opponents’ playing a game of Minesweeper, but for the Nationals on Tuesday, Cueto was just another obstacle that stood in their path.
The unquestioned hottest pitcher in baseball can only be so impermeable. Eventually, even the Walter Johnson’s of the world had to give up runs. For Cueto, his one bad inning is going to leave a hefty black eye on his current season total.
In what has become typical Reds fashion thus far in 2014, the Redlegs got on the board in the first. Swinging early and often at the offerings of Washington starter Doug Fister, Skip Schumaker doubled, before being driven in on an RBI single off the bat of Todd Frazier.
And in what has also become typical Cincinnati baseball this season, the offense disappeared from there on out. After Ramon Santiago’s bloop single into left field in the second, Fister retired the next 12 batters before Brandon Phillips could single in the sixth to break up the stretch.
Not a stranger to a lack of run support, Johnny Cueto took the mound knowing very well that the run he got in the first might be his only run of support. His assumption would be correct.
While how loud the lumber is thumping when he pitches is more of an unknown, Cueto can always trust the reliable gloves behind him of the best defensive team in baseball. On Tuesday night, with all of the moving parts, even that failed him.
Even though manager Bryan Price stated there would be no personal catchers when they team broke camp, Brayan Pena has transformed into Cueto’s personal catching guru. With no Joey Votto down at first, and Neftali Soto looked as dreadful as can be at the plate, somebody would have to move out of position to man first base. That would be none other than Todd Frazier.
The carousel of moves continued, as with Frazier now at first, someone had to play the hot corner. Ramon Santiago moved off the bench and into the starting lineup, with now even less offensive pop backing Cueto than usual.
Rolling as Cueto can, he seemed to be on his way to breezing through yet another unassuming victim. But then, the defense came unglued.
An error from Frazier allowed the pitcher to reach base. Denard Span dropped down a bunt single, which was inexplicably followed up by Santiago chucking the ball down the right field line, scoring Fister all the way from first and setting up Span at third.
With the ball finally leaving the infield off the bat, the Nationals took a 2-1 lead on a sacrifice fly. The game looked all too eerily similar for not only Cueto, but also the offense.
Coming within a split second and just the ever-so slightest hesitation of tying the game in the sixth inning, the pendulum of momentum now was loudly ringing in favor of the Nationals.
In an unexplainable anomaly, the hits just kept coming. (So did the errors—Brayan Pena would toss one away for the third error of the night.) Having hit his second batter of the inning, Cueto gave up his fourth single in the frame, pushing Washington’s lead up to 6-1. Getting just an out in the sixth, it was time for Cueto to hit the showers.
Before the inning could mercifully end, the lead had ballooned out to 9-1, even though it felt that enormous heading into the inning.
In just 5.1 innings of work, Cueto surrendered six earned runs (all in the sixth) and watched his ERA rise to 1.89. Even with the atrocious start (really was not a bad start—more of a bad inning), Cueto is still on pace to shatter single-season Reds pitching records.
Showing how easily they can do it, the team tacked on a run in the top of the seventh just to show they still had some life.
There would be no extra innings, and no notable comeback, but there was some life still in the Reds dugout as the final out was recorded.
The Wednesday late afternoon matinee game may mean only a game in the standings, but it signifies much more. With the victory, the Reds would pick up a series win over a scuffling Nationals group that has been ravaged by injuries. Also, the road trip would sit an even .500 with the victory.
With the cavalry just beyond the horizon, the Reds need to continue to keep their heads above water.