Diamondbacks, Reds look to end first half on positive note (Jul 09, 2017)
PHOENIX -- Sometimes, difficult losses can turn into demonstrable lessons for learning.
Arizona Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo believes it's true. Reds manager Bryan Price can only hope it's true.
Their two teams play their final game before the All-Star break on Sunday, in what has been a season of contrasts for the National League Central Reds and NL West Diamondbacks.
Both teams exited spring training with similar hopes for revival seasons, and both teams got off to promising starts. But it's been a free fall for the Reds since early June, while the surprising Diamondbacks will take one of the majors' best records into a break in which they'll send four players to the All-Star Game -- despite their 7-0 loss to Cincinnati on Saturday night that dropped them 6 1/2 games behind the Los Angeles Dodgers..
Not that the Diamondbacks haven't dealt with measures of adversity between the long bursts of success that have put them in position for their first postseason appearance since 2011.
Arizona's most disappointing moments came only last week in Los Angeles, when, in position to take over the division lead with a three-game sweep, they were swept themselves by the Dodgers, dropping them 5 1/2 games back in the division race. And the worst loss of all came Thursday when, with a three-run lead in the ninth inning and closer Fernando Rodney on the mound following a near-flawless May and June for the 40-year-old closer, the Diamondbacks gave up four runs and lost.
Such a loss can mentally shipwreck a team such as the Diamondbacks, who are only learning to win after experiencing a 93-loss last season with many of the same players who now find themselves on a team that is 18 games above .500 at 53-35.
Lovullo was determined to make sure it didn't.
"Whether we win or lose, these guys are always prepared," Lovullo said. "(Thursday) was a tough moment for us, we let a game get away from us we felt we should have won. (But) these guys came back to Arizona and totally forgot about it and performed the way we have all year."
Arizona returned home to beat the Reds 6-3 Friday night behind ace Zack Greinke, who pitched seven shutout innings. On Saturday, Cincinnati rookie Luis Castillo pitched 6 2/3 shutout innings as three Reds' homers -- by Joey Votto, Scooter Gennett and Tucker Barnhart -- carried them to a win.
"I used it as a teaching tool (and) that's been the strategy all along -- when you get tough moments, sometimes you can teach, I used it to go out and tell the guys ... (that to) make sure next time you're in this situation, it doesn't happen again ... to learn from it," Lovullo said.
If that can happen, the Reds should be learning a lot. They began the season 7-2, and were four games above .500 at 19-15 on May 11. Since then, they're 19-34, including a string of 13 losses in 14 games that dropped them into the NL Central basement.
Of course, they're probably convinced they'd be much better if right-hander Homer Bailey (1-2) had been available all season. He'll be making only his fourth start of the season Sunday and only his 12th in the last three seasons -- he'll oppose Diamondbacks left-hander Patrick Corbin (6-8) -- after being sidelined with a right elbow injury since late August.
Bailey was roughed up his first two times out, but came back to beat the Rockies 8-1 on Tuesday, giving up eight hits but only one run over six innings. It was the kind of start by a pitcher who's tossed two no-hitters in the majors that gives Price hope for the second half of the season.
"As the game went on, he was able to do what he wanted to with the slider," Price said. "Having that option ... he got away from having to pump fastballs in fastball counts, and that's what hurt him in his first two starts. (That allowed him) to be aggressive with the fastball."
Corbin is 2-2 with a 3.41 ERA with 32 strikeouts and eight walks over his last five starts, but gave up three runs on seven hits over 4 2/3 innings during an 8-6 loss to the Dodgers on Tuesday. He'll be making what figures to be the first of two starts until Diamondbacks All-Star pitchers Zack Greinke (11-4) and Robbie Ray (8-4) start again.
Lovullo plans to rest Greinke and Ray during the three-game series in Atlanta that begins Friday, regardless of whether they pitch in Miami or not. Greinke is in line to start for the National League on Tuesday, and Ray, with 106 innings pitched and the second half of the season to go, is on pace to surpass the career-high 174 1/3 innings he pitched last season.
Corbin, Taijuan Walker (6-4) and Zack Godley (3-3) are expected to start the Braves' series, though not necessarily in that order.
Bailey (1-2), who came off the disabled list June 24, and right-handers Scott Feldman (7-6) and RHP Sal Romano (1-1), who got his first win of the season on Thursday, will fill the Nos. 3-4-5 spots in the Reds' rotation following the four-day All-Star break, according to Price. Their order has yet to be determined. That apparently leaves the 1-2 roles to RHP Tim Adleman (5-6) and Castillo (1-1).