No margin for error

The Reds' bullpen struggles showed up again Saturday night in a 6-3 loss to St. Louis.

Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Sean Marshall walks off the field at the end of the eighth inning during a game against the St. Louis Cardinals at Great American Ball Park. The Cardinals won 6-3.

David Kohl / USA TODAY Sports

CINCINNATI -- Bryan Price has an issue to deal with when it comes to his bullpen. What has been a strength of the Reds in the past few years has let the first-year manager down through the first two months of the season.

The problem showed itself again Saturday night in a 6-3 loss to St. Louis at Great American Ball Park. The Cardinals were able to tack on a pair of insurance runs in the eighth inning off of relievers Logan Ondrusek and Sean Marshall to push a 4-2 advantage to 6-2.

Ondrusek gave up a leadoff hit to Yadier Molina and then walked Jhonny Peralta. The lone out he recorded was on a sacrifice bunt that Mark Ellis nearly beat out for a hit. Marshall, the veteran left-hander, was brought on and gave up run-producing singles to lefties John Jay and Matt Adams.

There were plenty of reasons for this loss, which again drops the Reds (22-25) to three games under .500, but a bullpen that ranked last in the National League in ERA coming into the game has been a constant source of concern. Saturday night it was Ondrusek and Marshall but there have been troubles up and down the roster of relievers.

"We have to be strong one-through-seven," said Price.

They haven't.

Last season the Cincinnati bullpen was fourth in the NL with a 3.29 ERA with a total of 16 blown saves. The bullpen ERA was 4.86 heading into Saturday's game and it has blown seven of 17 save opportunities. There have been plenty of injuries for certain -- Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Broxton and Marshall -- that have affected that number but even with the group back together there has been a lack of consistency.

Marshall came off the disabled list on April 19. He's been fighting left shoulder soreness since last season. The prospect of having Marshall and Manny Parra pitching from the left side looks great on paper but Marshall hasn't gotten the job done. He's now made 10 appearances covering 8 2/3 innings and allowed 18 hits and 12 runs (10 earned).

His last five appearances have covered five innings. In that time he's allowed 11 hits and eight runs against just 33 batters faced. He's inherited seven runners and allowed five of them to score, including two Saturday night. Jay hit a 0-2 pitch for his single, while Adams drilled the first pitch he saw into center field for a hit.

Opponents are hitting .400 against Marshall this season and he has a whopping WHIP of 2.88 this season.

"I thought his stuff was better but he's not vintage Sean Marshall yet," said Price. "He's still building up arm strength. I thought his stuff was crisper today, closer to what we're used to seeing but he's not back yet. When he is, he'll be pitching a lot more than he has been and a lot more in a high leverage situation."

Ondrusek is allowing opponents to hit .356 against him this season with a WHIP of 1.95

The combination of Parra, Broxton and Chapman threw three scoreless innings Friday night to close out a 5-3 win against the Cardinals. J.J. Hoover, who had allowed runs in seven of his first 13 appearances, relieved starter Tony Cingrani on Saturday and pitched a scoreless seventh inning. It was his fourth consecutive scoreless outing.

That's the good.

The performances of Ondrusek and Marshall on Saturday are an example of the bad. For a Reds team that already struggles to produce runs, they can't afford those outings.

"We don't have a lot of margin for error," said Price. "We're not giving our guys a ton of margin for error. It would be nice to go out there and be somebody 10-2. That would be a nice thing."

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