PITTSBURGH — Bryan Price is dealing with a problem in his first season as the Reds manager that he rarely dealt with as its pitching coach. He’s having a hard time finding any consistency from his bullpen.
The Reds rank last in the National League in bullpen ERA at 5.77 heading into Tuesday night’s game against Pittsburgh at PNC Park. Given that Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall — Price’s closer and top setup relievers from both sides of the mound — started the season on the disabled list, maybe it shouldn’t be so unexpected that the bullpen has struggled.
Then again, there are plenty of experienced members in this group that remain from a unit that was fourth (3.29) in the NL last season.
Much of that problem has arisen in the last week.
The bullpen’s ERA through the first 12 games of the season was 4.61. That’s certainly nothing to be ecstatic about but in the last seven games, which includes Johnny Cueto’s complete game against Pittsburgh last Wednesday, the relievers have allowed 14 earned runs in 27 1/3 innings for an ERA of 7.41. Even Manny Parra, who became as reliable of a reliever as the Reds had last season no matter who he was facing, has had a rough week.
Parra has allowed seven hits and walked three while giving up five runs in three innings spanning four appearances. He hadn’t been scored upon in his first six appearances covering 6 2/3 innings and had allowed just three hits and one walk.
Parra gave a game-tying solo home run to Andrew McCutchen leading off the eighth inning of Monday’s game. The Pirates would eventually win 6-5 with a run off of J.J. Hoover in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Hoover’s troubles have been the most glaring. He’s creating much of the troubles himself.
Hoover has appeared in eight games so far. He’s given up runs in half of those appearances and six times he’s allowed at least one base runner. Overall he’s allowed seven hits (three home runs), walked eight and given up eight runs in just 5 1/3 innings.
Monday against the Pirates he walked three of the eight batters he faced, including Russell Martin and McCutchen with one out in the ninth. Martin scored the game-winning run on a two-out single to right field by Neil Walker.
"He’s just not from a mechanics standpoint exactly where he’d like to be or we’d like him to be," said Price. "He’s just not behind the ball consistently so he’s got a lot of those misses to the glove side or away to the right-handed hitters. Breaking balls that are just missing the corner away."
Price didn’t have several pitchers available to him on Monday, including Marshall and Sam LeCure because of their pitch counts against Chicago on Sunday. While Chapman is still a few weeks away from returning, Broxton is the closer. Price could’ve chosen to use him in the eighth inning against the heart of the Pirates’ order but following the right-handed hitting McCutchen were lefty Pedro Alvarez, switch-hitter Walker and another lefty in Ike Davis, who had hit a grand slam off of Mike Leake in the fourth inning.
Broxton has appeared in three games after beginning the season on the disabled list as he rehabbed his way back from surgery on his forearm last August. He’s not ready to go two full innings and, Price said on Tuesday, it’s not likely Broxton would be his choice to pitch that much in a game unless a late-game situation dictated that decision.
The injury to starting pitcher Mat Latos has also affected the bullpen. While Alfredo Simon has been exceptional as Latos’ replacement, that has left Price without another trusted option in the bullpen. He is going to continue to mix-and-match his pieces until Chapman and Latos return. Logan Ondrusek has made just four appearances, giving up three runs in 2/3 of an inning last Saturday at Chicago.
"(Hoover) and Logan are really the keys to this bullpen as it stands right now," said Price. "It’s those bridge guys who help you not have to use LeCure and Parra all of the time, to be able to spell Broxton on a day that maybe he needs off from closing. They’re guys who have done those jobs before.
"I’m confident they’re going to turn it around. I just know it’s frustrating for them to struggle in the early part of the season."