Winning the opening series of the final homestand prior to the All-Star Break, the Cincinnati Reds topped the Milwaukee Brewers by a final of 4-2 in the rubber match.
Following suit with the first two contests, good pitching was plentiful on Sunday. It took timely hitting from both clubs to erase deficits, and then counter-punch, but dominant pitching was once again the name of the game.
Mat Latos sat in the dugout for the majority of the first two months of the season and watched as the pitching staff set the tone. Since April, the offense has been dragging behind, but Reds pitching has been a constant. In just his fifth start back, he has reminded not only fans, but also the front office, that he himself is an electric pitcher, one capable of neutralizing any club once he takes the hill.
Through the front four innings, Latos did not as much as let up a base hit. Trading in his once blazing fastball for a more controlled, accurate pitch, Latos has changed his repertoire drastically from just two years ago. No longer relying on 95+ MPH to get batters out, Latos struck out three batters on Sunday, all with breaking balls.
It was during a trip to Great American Ball Park last season that Logan Schafer had himself a career afternoon at the expense of Homer Bailey, and he once again proved his adeptness at hitting Cincinnati pitching. Batting .179 coming into the game, Schafer would score Milwaukee’s only two runs after a triple and a double, respectively.
Coming into Sunday, the Redlegs had not scored for 12 consecutive innings. They would waste no time jumping all over Yovani Gallardo in the first. With Joey Votto placed on the disabled list for the second time at the conclusion of the game, each member of the lineup takes on an increased role. Jay Bruce would knock in a run on a fielder’s choice before Devin Mesoraco would drive home the second run of the inning with an opposite field base hit.
For a club like the Reds that lack consistency 1-8 in the order, extra-base hits are the path to victory. Through the front seven innings, there were eight hits on the board, but all of the single variety. Gallardo would have only two clean innings the whole way, constantly battling a pesky offense that could not scratch another run across.
Victimized by National League style baseball, Gallardo was removed for a pinch-hitter in the eighth inning. Luckily, for him, that pinch-hitter was Rickie Weeks, who has made a career saddening Reds fans at the most inopportune times. Weeks would lash an RBI single into centerfield, tying the score up at two, and stunning Latos.
It has long been understood that Jay Bruce will undergo peaks and valleys while inside the batter’s box. One of the most supremely gifted players in all of baseball, Bruce has the uncanny ability to single-handedly carry a team. On the flip side, he can go through slumps that drive fans up the wall.
Curiously enough, despite his 0-for-26 slump, Jay Bruce has been hitting the ball hard. Multiple balls have been snared; costing him a hit that would help him come out of it. With Joey Votto not in the fold for the near future, Bruce’s bat becomes even more significant to the Reds’ overall well-being.
For reasons unknown, Will Smith felt comfortable throwing Jay Bruce a fastball up and in. At Great American Ball Park, the ball does not always need to be struck well to be counted as a home run (see: Ramon Santiago’s near shot in the second inning that was negated by fan interference). A wide smile panned across the face of Bruce as he rounded the bases after his eighth round tripper of the season, putting the Reds ahead 4-2 in the bottom of the eighth.
The bullpen gates swung open for the ninth inning and out walked an imposing figure to save the ballgame: Jonathan Broxton. Aroldis Chapman was unavailable with a pulled hamstring, but with Broxton miniscule ERA available to shut the door, there was no fear as he breezed through the heart of the Brewers’ order.
Not much about the series was pretty (except for the fireworks), but it got the job done. Winning the series over was Milwaukee was key, especially with the Chicago Cubs coming into town.
No longer in possession of their two best starting pitchers in Jeff Samardzija and Jason Hammel, the Cubs come into Cincinnati without two bullets in their chamber. The always rare, but fun, five-game set opens on Monday with Mike Leake taking on Edwin Jackson.
First pitch is scheduled for 7:10 p.m., although the weather forecast ominously predicts some showers.