Pitching struggles mount as Reds lose sixth in a row

Reds starter David Holmberg struggled again Thursday night as he took on the Braves.

CINCINNATI — Pitching has been a constant the Reds have been able to count on for the majority of this season. The Reds haven’t been able to count on anything for the past week.

Thursday’s 8-0 loss to Atlanta stretched their losing streak to six games. They’ve been outscored 45-26 and have given up no fewer than five runs in each game during the losing streak as they continue to sink further in the National League Central standings. At six games under .500 (61-67), they have equaled the lowest depth of their season.

David Holmberg, freshly called up from Triple-A Louisville, pitched batting practice for the second time in as many starts this season for the Reds. Pedro Villarreal, also called up on Thursday, at least gave the bullpen some needed length with 2 1/3 innings, although the Braves were able to add on a pair of runs against him.

"I would say that when the highlight of your game is that Skip Schumaker threw a scoreless inning, that says enough about the game in of itself," said manager Bryan Price.

Schumaker became the first Reds position player to pitch since Paul Janish on July 6, 2009, at Philadelphia when he allowed one walk but no hits in the ninth inning. That followed two perfect innings by Logan Ondrusek and a perfect eighth inning by Aroldis Chapman.

To say this has been a rough stretch for the pitching staff and the team is an understatement. The Reds have now lost nine of their last 10 games.

"It’s tough to deal with struggles but we’re professionals and we go out there and give it our all. Some days you have it and some days you don’t," said Ondrusek, who returned from the disabled list this week.

Ondrusek took the loss in a 6-5 defeat in 10 innings at St. Louis on Monday but has had a two consecutive scoreless appearances since.

The Reds optioned relievers J.J. Hoover and Carlos Contreras to Louisville before Thursday’s game.

Hoover has been the poster child for the bullpen’s recent troubles, although he has hardly been the only reliever struggling. Still, his 1-10 record and 5.27 ERA weren’t getting any better. He has lost 10 decisions in a row, including giving up Drew Stubbs’ game-winning three-run homer in the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader loss at Colorado. Chapman was the one who got the Reds in trouble that game by walking all four batters he faced in the ninth inning. Hoover nearly got the Reds out of the jam but instead fell one out short in the 10-9 defeat.

Hoover’s demotion was partially due for procedure – the Reds needed a starter to take the spot of Homer Bailey, who is on the disabled list, and that meant bringing up Holmberg. Getting some time away from his struggles in the big leagues can’t hurt a guy who had pitched nearly 97 innings for the Reds the last two seasons, allowing just 64 hits and 28 runs.

Hoover has given up 51 hits and 32 runs in 54 2/3 innings this season, including 10 home runs.

"J.J. was the choice because it’s been such a battle to be able to be consistent and be the same guy that we’ve come to know from 2012 and 2013," said Price. "I think a few outings down in Triple-A, just getting his feet back on the ground hopefully will help him when he comes back. He’ll certainly be back with us in September and hopefully be throwing the ball as good as ever."

Holmberg’s first major league outing on July 8 against the Cubs lasted just 2 2/3 innings. He barely made it that far Thursday in his second outing.

Holmberg gave up six runs on five hits while facing 19 batters. He walked four and hit two Braves as well as he recorded just eight outs. He threw 86 pitches. Only 47 of them were good for strikes. The first five batters in the third inning reached base and all eventually scored as Atlanta sent 11 batters to the plate.

"It’s not what I wanted to do," said Holmberg. "The team needed a good start. They need to win ballgames and I wanted to try to go out and win a ballgame today. I didn’t execute pitches and they took advantage of it."

The Reds acquired Holmberg, 23, from Arizona last offseason as part of the three-team deal that sent catcher Ryan Hanigan to Tampa Bay. He has spent the season at Louisville, where he is 1-6 with a 4.64 ERA in 17 starts.

Holmberg pitched to 37 batters in his two games with the Reds. Twenty-one of them reached base. Eleven of them scored. Four of them scored by hitting home runs off of Holmberg. His ERA was 16.88 at the start of the game. It went up to 18.56.

For a team looking to regain one of its constants, Thursday was a night to forget.