Reds still searching for groove

Cincinnati Reds' Todd Frazier questions a called third strike with umpire Toby Basner that ended the eighth inning of the second baseball game of a doubleheader against the San Diego Padres, Thursday, May 15, 2014, in Cincinnati. San Diego won 6-1.

Al Behrman/AP

CINCINNATI — The Reds can’t find any traction to their season. Thursday night’s 6-1 loss to San Diego in the second game of a day-night doubleheader was the seventh game in a row with an alternating result.

Good vibes one day followed by let’s go get ’em tomorrow.

It’s no way to make up ground on a Milwaukee team that has cooled off after a hot start.

Since beating Pittsburgh 2-1 on April 24 and evening their record at 11-11, the Reds have gone 7-10. They are in third place in the NL Central, seven games behind the Brewers and two games behind St. Louis. It might still be too early to get consumed with the standings but just as the Reds have struggled to capitalize on many a scoring opportunity this season, so have they squandered this opportunity to close the gap the Brewers and Cardinals.

Johnny Cueto’s third complete game and second shutout of the season in the first game, a 5-0 win, was complete with 14 hits. The Reds managed just three hits in the nightcap against San Diego’s Tyson Ross. Ross walked five batters but the Reds left seven runners on base after taking a 1-0 lead in the first inning.

"There’s no answer for it," said third baseman Todd Frazier. "Playing against a team that you should win, we come out and get that first run and we couldn’t put anything else up against a guy that was pretty much wild the first couple of innings. Even though he didn’t give up a hit we were still seeing pitches. We just have no answer for it."

That win in Pittsburgh last month was a third straight victory against the Pirates but the Reds followed those wins up with three straight losses at Atlanta. Thursday’s games completed a stretch of 12 of 14 games at home; they went 7-5 splitting two games with the Cubs, winning series from Milwaukee and Colorado before dropping two of three to the Padres.

The Reds haven’t gone on any extended losing streaks but neither have they had any extending winning streaks. They’ve won as many as three games in a row just the one time in Pittsburgh, while twice losing three in a row. They’ve had three two-game losing streaks and twice have won two in a row.

"Right now we’re just trying to get a handful of our guys going at the same time throughout the lineup," said manager Bryan Price. "We know what this team is and we know what we’re capable of doing. It’s well-documented, it’s chronicled it’s a team, when healthy, that people are very familiar. You connect names. There is name-recognition with our players and the Cincinnati Reds. We don’t need a lot of surprises."

The Reds have failed to score more than three runs in any of their last six losses. They have lost 12 one-run games, the most of any team in the majors, and most of the troubles can be attributed to an inconsistent offense. The output in Thursday’s two games is a prime example.

"We haven’t found our groove," said Price. "We had (a streak) early for about a week where we were scoring six, seven runs on average a game. I think we’re more capable of being more like that team than the offense that we’ve been working with lately."

Frazier has a 14-game hitting streak going and was 3-for-7 in the doubleheader. He’s one of the few Reds who has consistently produced at the plate. Billy Hamilton has quietly settled into his role as the leadoff hitter, hitting .300 (27-of-90) since his horrid 2-for-22 start. Brandon Phillips is showing signs of coming out of his early funk. He has had five multi-hit games in his last 10 appearances, including going 2-for-4 with a double and a three-run home run off of San Diego starter Ian Kennedy in Thursday’s first game. He’s driven in runs in three consecutive games for the first time all season.

But it’s too spotty in context of the whole lineup.

Jeff Francis had his contract purchased from Triple-A Louisville in time to start Thursday night’s game and Francis gave the Reds a good outing. He allowed three runs on five hits with no walks and four strikeouts in five innings. He was lifted for pinch-hitter Neftali Soto leading off the fifth inning, who struck out. Logan Ondrusek, Sean Marshall and Sam LeCure each gave up a run out of the bullpen.

The Reds play 13 of their next 16 games on the road, beginning with a three-game series in Philadelphia that starts Friday.

"It’s frustrating knowing we should have won the series, knowing that we’re a better team than what we put out there tonight," said Frazier. "It’s understanding that we’re better than this… It’s frustrating."