Reds' bullpen able to hold on to avoid series sweep

June 13th, 2022

ST. LOUIS -- It's been a challenging season for the Reds' bullpen, but the past week might have been the hardest of all. That made the 4 1/3-inning group effort to hold on to a 7-6 victory over the Cardinals on Sunday at Busch Stadium, snapping a four-game losing streak, more satisfying.

"I know they wanted an opportunity today," Reds manager David Bell said. "A lot of guys came in and did the job. It’s definitely something that can get us back on track.”

Cincinnati's bullpen is ranked last in the Major Leagues with a 5.14 ERA. A large chunk of the problems came during the club's 3-22 start to the season when the rotation pitched the first 31 games without lasting six innings.

The previous eight games featured particular heartbreak as Reds relievers were 0-3 with five homers allowed and three blown saves -- including Joel Kuhnel giving up a two-run walk-off homer to Tommy Edman in the ninth inning of Saturday's 5-4 loss.

On a hot and muggy Sunday, starter Graham Ashcraft pitched 4 2/3 innings and 99 pitches, but he gave up Albert Pujols' two-out ground-rule double in the fifth to make it a 4-4 game. It was time for the bullpen to go to work.

First reliever: Art Warren
Warren, who has a 6.23 ERA in 23 appearances, had not pitched since Wednesday. He walked first batter Harrison Bader on four pitches to load the bases but struck out Andrew Knizner with a slider that drifted away from the plate.

Second reliever: Jeff Hoffman
While quietly putting together a nice season with a 3.00 ERA in 22 games, Hoffman has been gradually moved into higher-leverage situations. He got the top of St. Louis' lineup in the sixth inning and retired the side in order with strikeouts of Edman and Tyler O'Neill.

"Whenever they call my name, I assume that I’m the best guy available to do that job," Hoffman said. "That’s the same with any of these guys. When your name is called, you assume you’re the best one to do that. I’m not going to look too into it. I’m going to stay ready in every situation."

A RBI triple by TJ Friedl and Albert Almora Jr.'s sacrifice fly gave Cincinnati a 6-4 lead.

Hoffman, who earned the victory, returned for the seventh and gave up back-to-back one-out singles.

Third reliever: Tony Santillan
Santillan has a 5.68 ERA in 20 games, but he was coming off the worst outing of his brief career Thursday vs. Arizona. In the ninth for a save chance, he gave up four runs in one-third of an inning for the 5-4 loss. Santillan drew back-to-back flyouts to right field from Pujols and Bader.

“It was huge," Santillan said. "I try to have a short-term memory. I wasn’t really thinking about last time. I was going in today and making sure those runners were stranded and getting out of that inning.”

In the top of the eighth inning, Tommy Pham slugged a one-out solo homer to left field off reliever Johan Oviedo for a huge insurance run.

"That inning before, if we didn’t have a clean inning, they were probably going to bring in [closer Ryan] Helsley," Pham said. "It’s important for our bullpen right there to not issue any more runs, because they help us out offensively."

Fourth reliever: Luis Cessa
A key reliever when the Reds had leads earlier in the season, Cessa had a 9.00 ERA in his previous eight games. He pitched a scoreless inning Saturday and returned Sunday with a perfect bottom of the eighth inning with two strikeouts.

“I feel better. The month of May was really tough for me," Cessa said. "I feel much better the last couple of outings."

Fifth reliever: Alexis Díaz
The rookie Díaz came in with a 1.93 ERA in his previous 25 appearances. Bell had generally used him in high-pressure situations in the middle-to-late innings but rarely in the ninth.

Díaz had two outs and was one strike from ending the game when Brandon Donovan worked a walk after a 0-2 count. Juan Yepez followed with a two-run homer to make it a one-run game.

Pujols, who leads all active players with 47 career homers vs. the Reds, did not come through this time. Díaz struck him out on three pitches, finishing with his slider, for his second save.

"The group that we have down there is so determined to get better every day," Hoffman said. "We all stay hungry. No matter what happened yesterday, we turn the page and are able to get ready for the next day."