Bullpen can't back Minor's quality start

July 2nd, 2022

CINCINNATI -- Reds starting pitcher  wasn't overly thrilled with his performance vs. the Braves on Friday, but considering how things had been going for him lately and the lineup he was facing, it was something he could try to build from.

Cincinnati was thumped, 9-1, for the club's third-straight loss. But when Minor left after six innings, he was only responsible for two of those runs.

"He gave us every opportunity to stay in that game and to win," Reds manager David Bell said. "Their lineup eventually kind of took over the game and put it out of reach." 

A closer look at Minor

Minor, who came into Friday’s start with a 7.71 ERA in five starts after missing the season's first two months with a shoulder injury, gave up two earned runs and six hits with no walks and three strikeouts on 94 pitches. In the first inning after a soft two-out single by Matt Olson, Austin Riley hit an 0-1 outside changeup into the first row in center field for a two-run home run.

"I still didn't throw the ball that well, a lot of 2-0 counts, 3-0 counts, behind with guys, but I made a pitch whenever I had to," Minor said. "I thought the pitch to Riley was OK. I didn't think he hit it that well, but he's a big, strong dude and hit it out."

One of those 3-0 counts seemed to be a turning point in the outing against Olson in the third inning with two men on and one out. Minor bounced back with three straight strikes, finishing the strikeout with an up-and-in fastball. He then struck out Riley with a changeup away to end the inning.

"I think he got to where he felt like he could really trust it and let it go," Bell said. "I think there were points in the game where that really showed up. I think that’s what we can expect. We’ve seen that from Mike for many years. I thought going up against that lineup, sometimes that can really kick it in for you. He knew he had to be at his best and he was."

Minor retired 16 of his last 20 hitters. In his previous start vs. the Giants -- a 9-2 loss last Saturday -- he allowed six earned runs with three homers over five innings.

"I felt like I was grinding all night, behind in the counts. But I felt more focused, had more conviction tonight in my pitches and got through it," Minor said. "It just feels good to have a decent game. We didn't win, but I feel like I gave the team a chance."

After Giants hitters teed off on him, Minor spent the time between starts focused on making his changeup more effective. It worked and induced weaker contact from Atlanta.

"I knew I had to throw changeups so every day the thought process was the grip, the release, the slot, whatever is going on," he said. "I just really tried to rip through it and pronate and try to get the ball to go the other way. That was basically it.”

More bullpen blues

Atlanta leads the National League in home runs and is second in OPS, and that was underscored once the Reds' bullpen took over the game in the seventh inning. Joel Kuhnel retired his first two batters before he walked No. 9 hitter Michael Harris II and Ronald Acuña Jr. hit a double. Dansby Swanson followed with a three-run homer to center field.

Kuhnel has given up 11 earned runs in four innings over his last four appearances. Luis Cessa pitched the eighth inning, and his first nine pitches to Atlanta were called balls. Cessa gave up three earned runs in his one inning.

In his last 10 games, totaling 8 2/3 innings, Cessa has a 10.38 ERA. Overall, he retired the first batter in only 14 of his 29 appearances and has a 6.67 ERA.

Cincinnati's bullpen is ranked last in the Major Leagues with a 5.69 ERA and is second with 45 homers allowed and 142 walks. The group is missing multiple arms due to injuries including Alexis Díaz, Tony Santillan and Lucas Sims.

"This game can be really tough when things aren’t going your way, you’re not pitching with a lot of confidence or playing any area of the game without confidence," Bell said. "It’s just a matter of time before it can turn around. It can seem like an eternity when you’re going through it, but that’s the only answer is just keep working on it, keep working through it with them."