CINCINNATI – Clint Hurdle managed Sunday like it was a Game 7, or at least like a manager who was going to do anything to avoid a fourth straight loss, utilizing five members of his top-rated bullpen over the final three innings Sunday against the Reds. Dusty Baker approached things like a manager whose team is in the midst of 17 games in 17 days, including an upcoming 11-game, 10-day road trip to the West Coast.
The Reds’ manager also wanted to reward his starting pitcher for the effort produced on a hot, humid afternoon. The good intentions fell as did the Reds’ hopes for a three-game series sweep, 3-2 to Pittsburgh. Homer Bailey struck out a career-high 12 batters in 6 1/3 innings but the bottom of the Pirates’ lineup put together four straight hits against him in the seventh inning to score twice and break a 1-1 tie, sending Bailey to his ninth loss in 14 decisions this season.
It’s an understatement to say Baker causes angst amongst fans with some of his decision-making but make no doubt he has a clear plan in mind when he makes a decision. He has numbers and stats at his disposal. He had the upcoming trip to San Francisco, Los Angeles and San Diego in mind in trying keep as many in the bullpen as fresh as possible.
He was also thinking about Bailey.
“If you get upside down (with the bullpen) before this trip, at home, and that makes for a long road trip but most of the fact is that I wanted to give Homer a chance to win the game,” said Baker. “People don’t understand, and that don’t matter to me because I’m going to do what I think is best for my team and what I think is right for him.
“It’s tough to go out there and either get a no-decision or a loss with the way he’s throwing the ball. I could see the level of frustration on his face, kind of, that we hadn’t gotten him any runs. Every year there is usually one pitcher you don’t get runs for and there’s usually another pitcher you get all of the runs for. Why? I don’t know but it happens. I know Homer had a lot of pitches but he was throwing as hard when I took him out as he was.”
Bailey finished the game with 121 pitches, just four pitches shy of his career-high. There is more conventional wisdom and not mere hindsight in saying that given the conditions Baker should’ve gone and gotten Bailey after Pittsburgh catcher Michael McHenry doubled off the base of the wall in left-center on the 10th pitch of his one-out at-bat. McHenry fouled off five pitches with two strikes on him before the double.
None of the fastballs Bailey threw to McHenry were clocked at less than 96 mph.
Baker remained in the dugout. Jordy Mercer, who had struck out his two previous at-bats, singled on a ground ball to centerfield to bring home McHenry with the go-ahead run. Clint Barmes, who had struck out and walked in his previous plate appearances, had an infield single deep in the hole at shortstop. Pinch-hitter Jose Tabata, who was hitless in his previous 11 at-bats, followed with a line single just over the outstretched glove of Brandon Phillips to make it 3-1 and end Bailey’s afternoon.
“As far as a personal note, no, (wins) aren’t (important) but if I get the win, we get the win. I like wins a lot better than I do losses,” said Bailey. “In that situation I need to be able to put up a zero. We made some really good pitches and it just didn’t work out for us… At the end of the day, we were making really good pitches but two ground balls… man.
“The game of inches really played out. It’s not like I was physically tired.”
The Great American Ball Park crowd of 40,824 gave Bailey a well-deserved ovation. The Reds’ offense couldn’t help him overcome that stretch of four batters.
That’s nothing new when you look down the list of Bailey’s starts this season.
Bailey has won one game in his last seven starts, and he needed to throw a no-hitter to get that victory. The Reds have scored 70 runs in Bailey’s 20 starts, 25 of them in a pair of April games; 15-0 against Washington on April 5 and 10-6 on April 21 against Miami. Sunday was the 10th time the Reds had failed to score more than two runs in a game started by Bailey. They’ve only scored more than four runs in six of the games he’s started, including those two in April.
The Reds mustered all of three hits on Sunday against Jeff Locke, an All-Star selection, and the Pittsburgh bullpen that includes All-Stars Mark Melancon and Jason Grilli. They had the bases loaded with no outs in the eighth inning against Melacon but could get just one run on a double play hit into by Joey Votto.
Bailey hasn’t pitched to the level he did on Sunday in all of his games but when a pitcher has a 3.84 ERA and in general does what needs to be done to keep his team in the game, it’s got to be frustrating to have yourself and your team come up on the short end of the scoreboard.
“I really don’t have much of a hand in stuff like that,” said Bailey. “Days like today, after awhile it might start getting to you a little bit but you can’t think about that. You just have to keep going after it and try to make pitches.”