CINCINNATI -- When the Reds brought back pitcher Jeff Hoffman from the injured list, they decided to use him as a sixth starter in the rotation rather than put him in the bullpen. The choice was made so starters Luis Castillo and Tyler Mahle could get extra days of rest.
In that specific respect, Hoffman achieved what was needed just by taking the mound on Wednesday. Little else about the actual outing vs. the Mets was successful, however. During his first start in two months, Hoffman gave up five runs over four innings -- including a third inning grand slam -- in a 7-0 Reds loss that gave New York two of three games in the series. Now the club will have to determine whether he should be given another chance to start.
“It was just getting behind in the count a little bit, made it tougher on him,” Reds manager David Bell said. “Seemed to be a lot of 2-0 counts. That’s really what was really the difference. That’s what created the opportunities for the Mets to get off good swings and get baserunners, so that’s what I saw.”
Since the All-Star break, the Reds (49-47) have lost five of six games. Two of the last three games featured starters pitching only four innings. Wednesday’s game also featured a lack of offense; the Reds were held to one hit by Mets starter Marcus Stroman and reliever Jeurys Familia.
“We had a lot of momentum coming into the break and obviously we’ve kind of lost a few games as of late,” Reds catcher Tyler Stephenson said. “We just have to keep our heads up. It’s a long season. We have this off-day [Thursday], get back on track, playing the Cardinals, so we can get back on track obviously playing a divisional team.”
Hoffman, who is 3-5 with a 5.20 ERA in 11 starts, went on the IL with right shoulder soreness after a 1 1/3-inning start vs. the Nationals on May 26. Command of his pitches was often an issue before the injury but it was thought that perhaps the shoulder discomfort prevented the right-hander from executing correctly.
Besides allowing three walks without a strikeout, Hoffman threw first-pitch strikes to 10 of his 23 batters, and only 44 of 82 overall pitches were strikes.
“It’s when you fall behind in counts and are forced to pitch in hitter’s counts, usually, [that] it doesn’t end well. We just struggled today getting behind,” Stephenson said.
With one out in the top of the second inning, Hoffman’s 0-2 pitch to Jonathan Villar was hit into the first row of seats in right-center field for a solo home run. The Mets' third inning began with three consecutive hard-hit singles before Dominic Smith lifted a first-pitch breaking ball for a grand slam to left field to make it a 5-0 game.
“Honestly, off the bat, I thought it was a sac fly. I didn’t think [Smith] hit it that well,” Stephenson said. “Obviously, it is what it is. I went back and looked at the video and it was actually a quality pitch. Sometimes that happens.”
New York did not score again in the third inning, but nine batters came to the plate as Hoffman issued a four-pitch walk with one out and made a fielding error retrieving Tomás Nido’s check-swing grounder. Tony Santillan took over in the fifth inning and gave up a two-run homer to Luis Guillorme.
What the Reds do for the next turn of the rotation remains unclear because they have not named their starters beyond Sunday, when Sonny Gray faces the Cardinals. Mahle will pitch on Friday, followed by Castillo on Saturday.
Vladimir Gutierrez, who gave up a career-high six earned runs over four innings in Monday’s 15-11 loss to the Mets, was optioned to Triple-A Louisville on Tuesday to get another bullpen arm. Gutierrez is 4-3 with a 4.97 ERA in 10 big league starts. Rules state that he must wait at least 10 days being recalled -- except if there is an injury.
Hoffman is out of Minor League options and can’t be sent down without clearing waivers first. The Reds could give him another start or revisit the idea of using him out of the bullpen, where he has experience from when he pitched for the Rockies.
When asked if Hoffman would get another start, Bell did not respond with a quick endorsement.
“We’ve got to figure that out,” Bell said. “We’ll use [Thursday’s] off-day to discuss that and make a decision, and go from there. We know the rotation for the next series. … And then a decision to make with Wade [Miley], whether he’ll go the fourth or fifth day [after] the off-day. But we got to figure out, do we stay with the six-man [rotation]? What do we do with that part of the back end of the rotation?”