Reds right-hander Sal Romano, who opposes Thames and the first-place Milwaukee Brewers on Friday night at Great American Ball Park, already knows the dangers of making a mistake to the power hitter who torments Cincinnati like no other.
Thames beat Romano and the Brewers 2-0 with a two-run home run on April 17. Not satisfied with that, Thames beat the Reds — and this time, Tyler Mahle — with yet another two-run home run in a 2-0 decision the very next day on April 18.
Flash forward to Thursday night, and the Reds — the NL’s hottest team coming in with nine wins in 10 games — are leading 4-2 with two out and two on in the seventh inning. Amir Garrett, especially tough on left-handed hitters, is on the mound. Yet Garrett gave Thames a too-good pitch to hit, and the result was a decisive three-run home run, and the Brewers went on to win 6-4.
“That was a huge hit,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “We were down two (runs) there and Garrett’s been really good. It was a good win. We had a lot of guys do a lot. We had big at-bats in big situations.”
Jesus Aguilar added a tying two-run homer, his 19th, off Reds starter Anthony DeSclafani in the third inning after Cincinnati had gone ahead 2-0 in the first.
For Thames, it was his third consecutive game against Cincinnati with a game-winning homer and it also was his 13th homer, to go with 24 RBIs, in only 20 career games against the NL Central rival Reds. The three homers represent his only three hits against the Reds this season; overall, he’s hit only .234.
Thames hadn’t homered off a left-hander all season, although he had only 13 prior at-bats against lefties. However, he has handled Garrett, homering off him the last three times he’s faced him.
His numbers against the Reds the last two seasons are remarkable: 13 homers, including 10 homers and 17 RBIs in 17 games last season.
“Thames has really done damage against us, last year and this year,” Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman said. “We don’t have an answer for him. He’s really hurt us.”
As have the Brewers. They came in with six losses in their previous 10 games, but they’re off to a good start in the four-game series, especially given that the Reds had won 12 of their previous 15 despite being in last place. Milwaukee has won six of seven from Cincinnati this season.
The Reds not only haven’t solved how to beat the Brewers, neither has Romano (4-7). He’s pitched well in two of his last three starts overall, but he’s 0-4 with a 6.27 ERA in four career starts against the Brewers. Ryan Braun gives him trouble, going 5-of-10 (.500) with one homer against him.
The Brewers, who lead the Chicago Cubs by 2 1-2 games in the NL Central, will send out right-hander Chase Anderson (5-6), who has had success against the Reds. He’s 3-1 with a 3.19 ERA against them in eight starts, beating them 7-6 on May 1 despite giving up four runs and six hits in 5 1/3 innings.
One reason for that success is Anderson’s ability to shut down some of the Reds’ top hitters. Eugenio Suarez, who leads the NL with 59 RBIs, is only 2-for-13 (.154) against him, and Scooter Gennett, who leads the league with a .331 average, is 2-for-7 (.286).
The Brewers lost center fielder Christian Yelich to lower back tightness in the first inning Thursday, and it’s been a problem he’s had in the past. His status for Friday and the rest of the series is uncertain.
“It looks like this one is not as bad,” said Yelich, who is hitting .289. “It’s frustrating. We’ll know more in a day or so. Hopefully, we can take care of it.”