CINCINNATI — A little hustle will do you well. It did the Reds well Wednesday night. A little hustle was a big difference in a 7-5 victory against the Chicago Cubs.
A little hustle by Kristopher Negron set the stage for a four-run fourth inning for the Reds. Too much self-admiration by Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro denied his team a chance at tying the game up in the eighth inning.
There’s a lot of things the Reds haven’t had going for them this season. They really can’t afford not playing as hard as possible, as hard as Negron has since he was called up from Triple-A Louisville on July 10. He was called up as a replacement for Brandon Phillips when Phillips went down with a torn thumb ligament.
Phillips has come back but Negron has earned his right to stay in the majors by doing the little things like he did Wednesday.
"I think you see when he gets his chance to be in the lineup on a consistent basis, he hasn’t let anybody down," said pitcher Mat Latos, who was the beneficiary of Negron’s offense and defense. "He’s going to have his 1-for-4s, his 0-for-3s. He’s going to have that. Everyone has that but he takes full advantage of it. He takes full advantage of it. I like the way he plays. He plays scrappy, he knows the game real well and he’s a dirty player. I like it."
Latos was referring to Negron’s penchant for having a dirty uniform, not anything in terms of illegal play.
Negron showed off his dirty style leading off the fourth inning. The Reds and Cubs were tied 2-2 when Negron hit a sharp ground ball to the left of second base, a ball that Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro appeared to be close enough to at least make an attempt at catching. Instead, Castro never reached for the ball and it went to the outfield. Negron took advantage by never slowing down and reaching second base standing up for a double.
Skip Schumaker drove Negron home with a single that gave the Reds a 3-2 lead. The Reds went on to score three more times in the inning, aided by errors on Castro and third baseman Luis Valbuena. Chicago had committed just six errors in 881 chances covering its previous 23 games so the sloppy play was uncharacteristic of how the Cubs have played recently.
Negron’s hustle set the stage for the inning.
"As soon as I hit it, I knew (Castro) wasn’t going to get to it, and as I was running down the line I saw that the center fielder (Arismendy Alcantara) was shaded towards right field a little bit," said Negron. That prompted his decision to head to second base. "It was a tie ball game. Might as well push it a little bit. I hit it and it only took me a couple of steps to realize that I might get two."
Castro should’ve had a double himself in the eighth inning. The Reds went into the inning with a 6-2 lead but singles by pinch hitter Logan Watkins and Chris Coghlan off Latos to start the frame ended Latos’ night. Jonathan Broxton came out of the bullpen and gave up a two-run double to Javier Baez to cut the lead to 6-4.
Castro thought he had a home run to straight-away center field off of Broxton. He watched as it headed to what he thought would be a landing spot well over the wall. Instead, the ball hit high off the wall. Billy Hamilton quickly got the ball back to the infield, holding Castro to a single. Baez was waiting to see if Hamilton would catch the ball. He only moved up to third base but scored one out later on a single by Jorge Soler.
By all rights, Castro should’ve scored on Soler’s single as well but instead of a 6-6 tie, the Reds still led 6-5. Broxton got out of the jam with a double play against the next batter, Wellington Castillo.
Negron’s final line will say he was 1-for-4 with a double, a run scored and three assists on defense. He nearly beat out an infield single — he was originally ruled safe but the call was overturned by replay — in the fifth inning.
Those plays are noticeable.
"That’s how you do it," said manager Bryan Price. "Even a base hit directly at the left fielder, in front of the left fielder, you go hard until the outfielders make you stop. It’s a great habit, a great thing to do. It’s a great Pete Rose trademark right there. Make the outfielders stop you, and in that case they weren’t able to stop Kris. It was a really important play for us."
Negron, 28, is getting his first extensive playing time at the big league level this season. His ability to play numerous position — he played third base on Wednesday — has been a plus for him. People have taken notice of his high-paced "trot" on home runs. It’s not an act.
"I have to play that way. That’s the only way I know how to play," said Negron. "Sometimes I speed it up a little too much but I try to play as hard as I can every time. You never know when you’re going to have the opportunity to play, so I’m going to play hard no matter what."