CINCINNATI — It was the first weekend of August, a showdown series with the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Cincinnati Reds were annihilated and obliterated in two of the games — 13-3 and 15-2.
The post-game clubhouse was quieter than a nursery school at nap time and chins were so low players could shave on the rug.
One player stood up, one player told it the way it was. Relief pitcher Sam LeCure was not about to say there is lots of time left, that anything could happen, that there was a large opening at the end of the tunnel.
Instead he said, “Our window of opportunity is fast closing and our tomorrows are slipping away fast. We’re embarrassed and it is time to do something about it.”
And they have. Since the 15-2 loss the Reds have won 12 of their next 16 and squirmed back into contending position in the National League Central.
LeCure does everything associated with pitching a baseball — he has started, he has pitched in long relief, he has pitched in middle relief, he has pitched in situations, he has pitched in set-up.
On Thursday against the Arizona Diamondbacks he was the closer because Aroldis Chapman was unavailable, Jonathan Broxton was unavailable and J.J. Hoover was unavailable.
As they say, everything is secure with Sam LeCure, so he converted the save, his first major-league save.
“Sam was the best man we had left for the job who can handle the situation of the game,” said manager Dusty Baker of using LeCure as his closer-of-the-day. “He wouldn’t get nervous with somebody on, or the bases loaded, or facing a lefty. Sam has a lot of guts. He ain’t afraid. He doesn’t knock you out on the radar gun but he knows how to pitch.”
LeCure is more concerned about covering the ground to the top of the standings than personal accomplishments and said, “We didn’t write ourselves off after the St. Louis series. We don’t listen to fans or read articles and aren’t affected by outside influences.
“It has nothing to do with what we’re trying to accomplished in here because if we listened to everything everybody said we would think we aren’t very good,” said LeCure. “And that’s not the case.
Right now the Reds appear to have a wild card spot all but clinched, which means a one-game play-in game. That’s not what the Reds want.
“Nobody wants to leave the chance of losing in one game and going home,” said LeCure. “We want to win as many games as possible to win the division to make it easier on us. But if the option is wild card game or you don’t get in at all, everybody will take the wild card.”
LeCure points to outstanding starting pitching during this stretch (10-3, 2.46 ERA over the last 16 games, averaging 6 ½ innings per start) and says, “They’ve been giving us a lot of innings which is important because we’ll need our bullpen down the stretch.
“We’ve hit a little big of a speed bump with Jonathan Broxton going down, that’s hurt,” said LeCure, referring to the set-up pitcher who suffered a tear in his right forearm flexor mass that required season-ending surgery and five to six months of recovery time.
“But J.J. Hoover moved into his role and did the job — I don’t know if he gave up a run when Broxton missed a couple of months,” LeCure added. Hoover went 26 2/3 innings over 23 appearances without giving up a run.
“And Manny Parra has been doing the job that Sean Marshall would be doing (left-handed set-up and situational roles),” LeCure added. With Marshall missing most of the year with a fatigued shoulder, Parra stepped in and posted a 1.19 ERA over 29 appearances covering 23 2/3 innings.
“We feel with have the pieces,” LeCure added. “We, as a unit, feel confident and comfortable in ourselves in any role we’re asked to do.
When Baker asked a pitcher to step out of his comfort zone, to pitch in a role that is not his usual domain, LeCure said, “We don’t say, ‘Hey, this isn’t who should be going in.’ It’s like, ‘OK, this guy has great stuff and is going to compete and give us a chance.’”
LeCure said he and his teammates are tuned out when all they here is how much the Reds struggle to hit with runners in scoring position.
“That’s the only stat I feel like I hear,” said LeCure. “The only team that doesn’t struggle with that is the Cardinals. For whatever reason, they are unbelievable at that. Hey, when you have a runner in scoring position the pitcher is going to throw his best stuff at you.”
And LeCure knows it. That’s what he does. He has straned 21 of 22 inherited runners, including the bases loaded three times.