Williamson shines, but bullpen wavers in loss

July 1st, 2023

CINCINNATI -- If the Reds’ rotation can regularly trend towards better performances, their stout bullpen should benefit from deeper starts.

That wasn't the case, however, during Saturday's 12-5 loss to the Padres at Great American Ball Park in which Reds relievers were on the hook for 10 runs to end a three-game win streak.

Reds lefty starter  pitched into the sixth. Over his five-plus innings, Williamson gave up two runs (one earned) with three hits, one walk and five strikeouts. He was pulled at 86 pitches after a leadoff single in the sixth.

"I just keep throwing until they get me," Williamson said.

Williamson looked effective as he retired his first five batters in the game but needed 28 pitches to get through the third inning. Even after a smooth eight-pitch fourth inning, his day wasn't going to get into the later innings.

"I looked up and saw [63] pitches after the third and was like, 'I got to try to get some ground balls early,'" Williamson said. "Throwing some quality pitches to the heart of that lineup in the fourth for some early ground balls was really what we were after."

Williamson's nice performance came on the heels of Graham Ashcraft's quality 6 2/3-inning start Friday. On Tuesday, lefty Andrew Abbott delivered a six-inning start with one earned run.

A consequence of the rotation's struggles for consistency and deeper starts: Reds relievers are ranked fifth in MLB in innings pitched (332 2/3).

Some signs of wear and tear have emerged.

On Saturday, Cincinnati's most used reliever in terms of both innings and appearances --  -- did not get the job done for his second game in a row.

Farmer, who allowed a game-tying two-run homer in the eighth inning at Baltimore, inherited a 1-1 score and one base runner from Williamson in the sixth. Farmer's first batter, Ha-Seong Kim, hit a routine grounder but reached on a fielding error by shortstop Elly De La Cruz.

Two batters later with one out, Juan Soto hit a 2-0 pitch to right field for a three-run homer. Manny Machado made it back-to-back homers with a drive to left field.

“Just made a bad pitch to Juan. Other than that, the pitch to Manny was a ball above the zone. Hats off to him on getting the barrel to it," said Farmer, who has a 3.54 ERA in 39 appearances with only four of seven inherited runners scoring. “The other three batters I faced were all weak contact."

Farmer hasn't worked a full perfect inning since June 7 vs. the Dodgers -- 12 appearances ago.

"We got to Buck there at the top of the order. He’s been so good for us all year, and he’ll be fine. He’ll bounce back," Reds manager David Bell said. "He’s been pitching a lot like the other guys."

The Reds' newest reliever, veteran Alec Mills, was brought up from Triple-A Louisville this week to bolster the bullpen. Mills, who is thought to be a potential swingman pitcher down the road, had a rough debut for his new club in the seventh inning.

In his first big league game since July 2, 2022, for the Cubs, Mills gave up five runs (two earned) including Machado's second homer of the game. At Louisville since he signed in May, Mills was on a modified throwing program after returning from September back surgery.

Rookie Eduardo Salazar gave up two runs but was able to complete the final two innings.

The lopsided outcome enabled Bell to rest some key relievers. Closer Alexis Díaz was not needed after he blew his first save of the season on Friday, ending what was the Majors’ longest active streak of 27 consecutive saves dating back to 2022.

Since giving up his first three homers of the season in one June 23 game vs. Atlanta, Lucas Sims rebounded with three scoreless appearances. Ian Gibaut has given up five earned runs with eight hits and two homers over his last seven innings in seven games.

"What [Mills] and Sally were able to do for us was really important for that reason -- to give the other guys a little bit of a break today," Bell said. "Hopefully that will help us tomorrow and the next day.”

The Reds could get some relievers back from the injured list. Derek Law (right elbow flexor strain) has been out since May 19 and completed a three-game rehab assignment. He could return as soon as Sunday.

Also anticipated this week is the long-awaited return of Tony Santillan, who missed much of last season with a back injury, followed by setbacks to his knee and hamstring this year. Santillan is finishing his rehab assignment with Louisville.