CINCINNATI -- Even as he worked as a reliever for the Reds the past few seasons, pitcher Michael Lorenzen kept hoping that the door to return to starting wasn't closed forever. In his third start for Cincinnati on Saturday, Lorenzen effectively kicked that door wide open to show he's worthy of consideration for the 2019 rotation.
In a 3-0 Reds win over the Pirates at Great American Ball Park that snapped their six-game losing streak, Lorenzen dealt 5 2/3 innings, allowing five hits, two walks and two strikeouts. It was his longest outing since July 31, 2015, also vs. Pittsburgh. Further brandishing his skills as a hitter as well, Lorenzen also contributed an RBI single in the fourth inning.
Over his three starts, Lorenzen is 2-1 with a 2.63 ERA, and in his 45 games overall, he finished 4-2 with a 3.11 ERA.
"It's not a secret that it's something I want to do," Lorenzen said of starting, a role he last held full time in 2015. "I'm constantly learning how to get better. There's a lot of ways to get better this offseason, and I'm going to work extremely hard at that, and hopefully come back next year with those weaknesses polished up for sure and continue to grow as a pitcher as I've been doing."
It began as a scoreless duel between Lorenzen and Pirates ace Jameson Taillon, until the bottom of the third inning, when Billy Hamilton hit a one-out triple to the right-field corner and scored on Jose Peraza's sacrifice fly.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Eugenio Suarez connected for a leadoff homer to center field. With two outs, Dilson Herrera hit a double to left field, and Lorenzen followed with a sharp single into left field. The throw from Corey Dickerson beat Herrera to the plate, but catcher Jacob Stallings could not hold on to the ball as Herrera slid across the plate and into his glove.
Lorenzen retired 10 of 11 batters before he encountered his one big jam after notching two outs in the top of the sixth. Josh Bell drew a walk before Dickerson and Jungho Kang both hit singles to load the bases and put the tying run on first base. Interim manager Jim Riggleman summoned reliever David Hernandez, who picked up Lorenzen and preserved the lead by getting Josh Harrison to ground out to first base.
When Hernandez returned to the dugout, Lorenzen was there waiting to give a hug in a show of appreciation.
"I was pretty upset with myself for letting three guys get on with two outs in the sixth. But it was a great feeling once David was able to get out of it," Lorenzen said.
Riggleman knew that Lorenzen had the physical ability to stay in the game.
"He's such a great competitor," Riggleman said. "He's a strong kid and could keep going, but we have not had him up and down through the sixth inning, I don't think ever. It was time to get him out of there instead of letting him face more hitters."
Using a combination of a cutter, sinker and four-seam fastball, Lorenzen was efficient throughout the game and got weaker contact. According to Statcast™, the average exit velocity on all of Pittsburgh's contact was 82.9 mph. He notched eight outs on ground balls and had a low strikeout total.
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One of the improvements Lorenzen wants to make, especially if it's in a bid for the rotation, is to add another pitch.
"I need a put-away pitch," he said. "I get guys 0-2, 1-2 all the time. And I think my pitch count would even be better if I had a put-away pitch, a pitch I know I could go to, to get swings-and-misses. Right now, I have pitches that can get weak contact. But when you need that strikeout, you have to get that strikeout."
Complicating Lorenzen's desire to be a permanent rotation member is the fluidity of the situation. The Reds plan to increase the payroll and invest in the rotation. At the moment, only Luis Castillo seems like a true lock for the starting five. Also, the club has yet to name a permanent manager for next season, and whoever leads the club from the dugout will also have input.
"It just depends on what the best deals are out there for us," Riggleman said. "We do know our guys are competing like crazy, they are working their tails off, but we have to make a few changes, pitching-wise. How that money will be spent is yet to be determined."
MOMENT THAT MATTERED
Suarez closing season strong: When Suarez connected on a Taillon 0-1 slider, he lifted it for his team-leading 34th home run, and his second in two days. Both long balls were hit to center field. Suarez has struggled for much of September -- he came in batting .213 since Sept. 3. But he's been able to close strong in the final weekend.
"I like that he hit those homers to center," Riggleman said. "It's not an easy place to hit them, but it means he's not pulling off the ball the way he kind of got in a little habit for a good part of September. He stayed on the ball, drove the ball to center field. His natural strength, his power, allows the ball to go out of the ballpark."
As a hitter this season, Lorenzen is batting .300 with four home runs and 10 RBIs, landing him on the National League Silver Slugger watch list.
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
When Hamilton hit his triple in the third inning, Statcast™ data showed that he went from home to third base in 10.68 seconds, the third fastest in the Major Leagues this year behind his 10.39 seconds on May 26, and Roman Quinn's 10.57 seconds on Aug. 29. Hamilton's sprint speed was 30.1 feet per second.
HE SAID IT
"I think it's fantastic for me to be able to appreciate what the bullpen does, appreciate what the starters do, appreciate what the bench guys do. I have an appreciation for what every role entails, and what goes into the preparation for every role. It's definitely helped me out mentally for how I prepare for the game. When guys come in, I know that phone has been ringing back and forth, because I've been down there. I know that phone's been ringing and David is ready to go. It was awesome." -- Lorenzen
The 2018 season finale for the Reds will have Sal Romano make the start against the Pirates' Clay Holmes at Great American Ball Park. First pitch is at 3:10 p.m. ET. Romano opened the season in the rotation and was 7-10 with a 5.56 ERA in 24 starts. In 14 relief appearances, he has a 3.77 ERA.