CINCINNATI -- As the Reds embarked on their best start to a season since 1990, their bullpen deserved a fair share of the kudos. It was especially satisfying for a group that received much of the blame for last season's struggles. Reds relievers entered Friday night with the National League's best ERA.
A 10-4 loss to the Brewers underscored how volatile the business of relief pitching can sometimes be. Milwaukee won the game thanks to a four-run sixth inning, and followed up with a four-run seventh -- all against the bullpen. Cincinnati, which came in with a 1.13 bullpen ERA, saw it jump to 2.67, but the group can only look ahead and not back.
"You have to," said reliever Blake Wood, who pitched the sixth and took the bullpen's first loss of the season. "I think the main thing is we're going at guys. We're not walking guys. They just hit the ball tonight. They hit some balls hard. They hit some balls not hard that went through, and it was just their night. Things were going their way, and it just didn't go our way."
Wood inherited a 3-2 lead in the sixth but gave up key hits with 0-2 counts. His 0-2 slider was hit for a single by Manny Pina. Following another single and a balk, a Jesus Aguilar RBI groundout tied the game to end a scoreless streak of 20 1/3 innings for the bullpen.
Jonathan Villar lined a 0-2 Wood slider to right field that went off of Patrick Kivlehan's glove for a RBI double and the go-ahead run. When lefty Wandy Peralta took over, first batter Eric Thames slugged a 1-2 fastball for a two-run homer. Until then, Reds relievers had stranded all 12 inherited runners this season.
It was also the first time this season a Reds reliever allowed a homer to his first batter. Last season, 26 first batters hit homers off of the bullpen -- a single-season franchise record and the most in the Majors since 2001.
"I can't complain the way [Wood] went after them," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "A couple of times he got into a two-strike count and a couple of guys got him. When Wandy came in and got to two strikes, he was throwing those sliders to Thames. Then he tried to sneak a fastball in there, and he never got off the fastball the entire at-bat and hit the three-run homer. It sent the game, not out of reach, but certainly the probabilities went down after that."
Michael Lorenzen couldn't stop the wave in the seventh. After retiring his last 16 batters in a row entering the night, Lorenzen gave up four runs -- his career high as a reliever.
"We did a nice job against their bullpen tonight, more than anything. Lorenzen is a good pitcher," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said.
In 2016, the Reds bullpen led the big leagues in homers allowed, walks allowed, runs allowed and batters hit by a pitch. One rough night doesn't mean a return to tough times, but it bears watching that the rotation is ranked 11th out of 15 NL teams in innings pitched through 11 games.
One strand of a silver lining is Cody Reed pitched a perfect two innings in the eighth and ninth. In his last two appearances, Reed retired all 15 batters he faced.
"Those are the things that you have to find when a game gets out of control," Price said. "You have to find things that are good."