Everything marginal for Reds in losing streak

Cincinnati's struggles continue in loss to Washington.

Cincinnati Reds' Jay Bruce holds his bat after striking out by Washington Nationals pitcher Rafael Soriano in the ninth inning of a baseball game, Friday, July 25, 2014, in Cincinnati. The Nationals won 4-1.

David Kohl / AP Photo

CINCINNATI -- The Reds were doing all kinds of things right before the All-Star break. They were the kinds of things that lead to winning eight of 11 games and feeling all warm and fuzzy about the prospects for the rest of the season.

That time seems much longer than two weeks ago.

Friday's 4-1 loss to Washington at Great American Ball Park, the seventh loss in a row since returning from the All-Star break, encapsulated the team's woes in one three-hour, seven-minute game.

While the Nationals put constant pressure on Cincinnati pitching throughout the game, the Reds managed just four hits and seven base runners against starter Tanner Roark and relievers Tyler Clippard and Rafael Soriano. Alfredo Simon didn't make it out of the fifth inning, continuing the starting pitching's trend of inadequate outings. That's a complete reversal of how the rotation went through the schedule before the All-Star game.

Right now, everything is going in reverse for the Reds.

The losing streak is a season-long slide for the Reds and drops them back to .500 (51-51) after they had worked hard to overcome a slow start and get into contention in the NL Central.

"I was thinking how in a week we're six or seven games out instead of one game," said third baseman Todd Frazier. "Records prove everything. We're working our tails off. Everybody is in here doing the same things as when we were winning. Everyone is in the cage working hard, trying to manufacture their craft. We're just not winning. That's all I can say."

This is the first losing streak of more than six games since the Reds lost eight straight games from July 28 to Aug. 4, 2009. The last time they lost this many games in a row immediately after the All-Star break was in 1991 when they lost eight straight.

There are plenty of factors involved in the downturn, including not having Joey Votto and Brandon Phillips in the lineup. The Reds have won just two of the 11 games they've played without Votto and Phillips since Phillips tore a ligament in his left thumb on July 10. They have not scored more than three runs in a game since the last game before the All-Star break when they beat Pittsburgh 6-3. They've scored just 13 runs in the current losing streak.

The offensive outage has been across the board. Friday's starting eight position players were a combined 26-of-145 (.179) on the six-game road trip to New York and Milwaukee. Frazier and Jay Bruce went hitless in eight at-bats Friday with each striking out twice. Ryan Ludwick drove in the only run of the game for the Reds with a squib shot off the end of the bat that got past Roark and went for an infield hit in the fourth inning. Billy Hamilton's bloop single into left field led off the inning. It was the only inning the Reds got their leadoff batter on base.

Even when Devin Mesoraco drove a ball into the gap in right-center field with two outs in the ninth inning against Soriano, it bounced over the wall for a ground-rule double that forced Ludwick to go back to third base instead of allowing him to score. Brayan Pena came up next as the potential tying run but popped out to second base to end the game.

"It's just such a mental game," said manager Bryan Price. "When you have it, when you feel the way we did the last 10 games or so going into the All-Star break, it's just the expectation of winning and nobody pressed. Now we all press. We're all trying to do the right thing to get things turned around."

Simon lasted just 4 1/3 innings after going only five innings last Saturday against the Yankees in a 7-1 loss. He gave up three runs on nine hits. He also walked two and hit a batter. Price went to the mound to get Simon before Adam LaRoche was two steps onto his way to first base after receiving a walk.

In his first 18 starts before the All-Star break, Simon failed to pitch at least six innings just twice and 13 times he pitched into the seventh inning. The Reds were 15-3 in those starts in large part because Simon put them in position to win.

Simon's last two starts bring to memory Jack Armstrong in 1990. Armstrong burst onto the scene for the Reds by going 11-3 with a 2.28 ERA and earning the start for the National League in the All-Star game at Wrigley Field. Armstrong had elbow troubles after the ASG, however, and lost his first five decisions before ending the season 12-9 and pitching out of the bullpen.

Armstrong will also be remembered for this comment during a contract dispute the following offseason:

"I'd rather make $30,000 on a tuna boat and have peace of mind than to continue to take insults."

Price isn't showing any concern that Simon is headed down that same path, even though Simon has already topped his previous career highs for games started and innings pitched with 20 starts and 126 innings.

"I'm more excited about what he did before the All-Star game when we were 15-3 in his starts," said Price. "That's a nearly impossible percentage to stay on. He's the one guy who really didn't have a lull in his season before he's had a couple of games where he's struggled. I'm not concerned about it. It was one of those games where he was up and when he's up in the zone, like it was in L.A. when he couldn't get the ball down, everyone becomes very marginal when they start to get the ball up in the strike zone."

Right now for the Reds, everything is marginal.