CINCINNATI — At the beginning of the season, the Cincinnati Reds rotation was strictly under quality control — quality start after quality start after quality start.
Then, just as suddenly, it changed. The starters went nine straight starts without injecting a single one deemed quality — six or more innings, three or less runs.
Of course, quality starts are deemed dubious in some quarters because three runs in six innings is a 4.50 earned run average and how ‘quality’ is that? Shouldn’t it be two runs or less for six or more innings — a 3.00 ERA?
The nine-game streak with no quality starts was the longest stretch for the Reds since 2005.
The streak was stopped Sunday afternoon by veteran Bronson Arroyo against the Milwaukee Brewers — 6 2/3 innings, no runs, five hits, one walk, five strikeouts during a 5-1 victory.
Maybe an indication of what quality starts mean, or don’t mean, is shown by what the Reds did during those nine straight starts without a quality showings. The Reds were 6-3.
Manager Dusty Baker shrugs off quality starts as just another of the many statistics dreamed up by somebody with time on their hands.
“I hadn’t noticed,” said Baker, when asked about the dearth of quality starts. “We’ll get on another run.”
And right on schedule, as projected by his manager, Arroyo put together a quality appearance.
“What counts is to win and we are winning,” said Baker. “I’ll take a quality start, but I’d rather take a quality win — or any win. Some guys have a lot of quality starts but don’t ever win. And we won yesterday (13-7), but that was not pretty (a Mat Latos non-quality victory).”
Amazingly, it wasn’t one of Arroyo’s better days, in his assessment, and he told Baker to keep a close watch on him, then said he had enough after 6 2/3 shutout innings and only 87 pitches.
“He said the entire game it was a struggle, but this guy has big, big guts and will give you what he has,” Baker said. “He told us to keep an eye on him and he was about out of gas, even though he didn’t have that many pitches or that many innings.
“Sometimes it isn’t pitches and innings, it is the energy level you have and he said he didn’t feel right from the opening pitch, so we had our eyes on him.”
Arroyo has one of the lowest run-support averages in the league — 2.71 runs per start, 97th lowest in the league, but a three-run home run by rookie Donald Lutz in the second inning gave him what he needed.
“I didn’t have a whole lot of stuff out there today,” Arroyo said. “I was grinding from inning one and 86 and 87 miles an hour was top-end for me. The wind was blowing at my back down low and blowing out up high. That’s terrible for me because I can’t make the ball move.”
And yet he pitched 6 2/3s worth of shutout ball to push his record to 3-4 (3.76 ERA) and snap the streak of no-quality starts.
“One of those days, man,” he said. “It felt like 90 pitches by the third inning. We were rolling along as starters for quite a while, then suddenly hit the skid marks. The good thing is that we somehow kept winning ballgames. We’re right where we need to be and soon we’ll get Johnny Cueto back (off the DL) and turn the corner and catch our second wind.”
When Arroyo put two men on with two outs in the seventh inning, Baker came to the mound to see how Arroyo felt and he immediately said, “No mas.”
After he left the mound and Baker awaited the arrival of relief pitcher Sam LeCure, shortstop Zack Cozart looked at Baker and said, “Man, I love playing behind that guy (Arroyo). What a great teammate.”