PHOENIX – Cincinnati showed the baseball world what it thinks of Wade Miley on Tuesday night. With Gerardo Parra on third base and one out in the first inning, Reds manager Dusty Baker played his infield in, the better to choke off a run at the plate.
With 26 outs remaining.
With Johnny Cueto, his best pitcher and a top NL Cy Young candidate, on the mound. Cueto, who had not lost to the D-backs in five career starts.
No number or quoted word may give a get a better indication of Miley’s worth.
As Miguel Montero said, “They knew it was Miley pitching. They knew it was two pretty good pitchers on the mound, so they knew it was going to be a low-scoring game.”
Cueto (17-5) and the Reds still sent the D-backs to their fifth straight loss, 5-2, dropping them 8 ½ games behind San Francisco in the NL West and preventing them from gaining on St. Louis in the second wild card race. The D-backs are still 7 ½ games behind the Cardinals, scuffling but still ahead of where the Cardinals were in the NL wild cards race at this time last year.
At the same time, Miley (14-9) reinforced his Rookie of the Year candidacy despite the defeat while playing on the same field with the other top candidate, Cincinnati handyman Todd Frazier.
Miley gave up three runs in a twisted second inning that included a 15-pitch walk to Scott Rolen and three end-of-the-bat singles, the first one breaking Frazier’s bat as he flared a single to center. Miley got stronger as the game went on, retiring 18 of the final 21 batters he faced in seven innings. He threw 54 pitches in the first two innings, 33 in the second inning, and 53 in his final five.
“It’s frustrating. You have to make better pitches,” Miley said.
“We just have to keep going and keep grinding and get through this thing. You just go out and play the game and see what happens.”
The D-backs (64-66) are two games under .500 for the first time in five weeks and are 2-7 on what coming in appeared to be a homestand in which they could make up some ground, with sub.-500 teams Miami and San Diego playing the first seven games. But their offense has misfired, scoring 25 runs in the first nine games, and five of those runs came in the first inning of a game they lost to Miami, 6-5 in 10 innings, last Tuesday.
None of which should detract from Miley’s body of work as he attempts to become the D-backs’ first Rookie of the Year. Miley has made three straight quality starts, five in his last six, and he leads NL rookie qualifiers in victories, ERA (2.85) and strikeouts (114).
Although Washington’s Bryce Harper got most of the publicity when he arrived in the majors in early May, the leading remaining contender appears to be Frazier, although Colorado catcher Willin Rosario, Reds shortstop Zack Cosart and San Diego first baseman Yonder Alonso could rise with strong Septembers.
Unless things drastically change in the next month, the balloting could be a referendum on whether the electorate prefers a hitter or a pitcher.
Frazier has played first base, third base and the outfield, most recently taking over at first base since Joey Votto’s absence in mid-July. He leads NL rookies with 62 RBIs and is hitting .295, third among qualifying rookies. His 18 homers are second.
“His numbers speak for themselves, without a doubt. He’s been hitting the ball, playing multiple positions. He’s been a huge asset for us. Obviously they are both deserving, and I think Cozart gets lost in the shuffle, because he’s played as good a defense as anybody in the league,” Rolen said.
“I’m glad I’m not voting.”
Frazier’s two-run double in the eighth inning gave the Reds a three-run cushion, but it was the second inning that made the difference, with Cueto able to maintain his mastery over the D-backs. He is 5-0 with a 1.66 ERA against them. He threw six shutout innings against the D-backs on July 17 in Cincinnati.
Rolen fell into a 1-2 hole after three pitches in the second but fouled nine pitches later, almost all fastballs, and reached when Miley threw a slider in the dirt.
“I wish I’d singled on the first pitch,” Rolen said dryly. “I had some balls maybe I should have or could have put in play earlier in the at-bat.
“He was just fouling off pitches up. He was doing just that, fouling balls off. That’s what he is trying to do, extend the at-bat as long as possible. If you make a good pitch there, maybe a different result, but I didn’t,” Miley said.
Chris Heisey’s looper to right loaded the bases, and after a wild pitch, Ryan Hanigan dropped a ball into short left-center to made it 3-1. Gerardo Parra drove in a run with his second double in the fifth after scoring on his leadoff double in the third, but the struggling D-backs offense had nothing else.