Alaniz does it all to lock down Reds' 'pen day win

September 29th, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- Rookie reliever R.J. Alaniz showed no fear in the batter’s box, or on the mound.

Alaniz pitched the final two scoreless innings of the Reds' 4-2, 12-inning win over the Pirates on Saturday at PNC Park, capping off a huge game for the bullpen. He also delivered his first Major League hit and RBI for a 12th-inning insurance run and claimed his first big league win, which ended Cincinnati’s five-game losing streak.

“It was my first actual professional at-bat. It was pretty sick to get it in the big leagues and actually get a hit out of it,” Alaniz said. “I haven’t seen live pitching in over 10 years. … I used to be able to hit back in the day. Just see it and hit it.” 

During a bullpen day that began with a 65-minute rain delay, Reds relievers certainly starred with their collaborative work by providing 11 scoreless innings. It was badly needed to pick up a lineup that was 3-for-18 with runners in scoring position. Two of the hits came from José Iglesias, including his two-out RBI double in the top of the 12th inning.

“That’s where you end up really putting pressure on your pitching to hold it right there, which is what happened,” Reds manager David Bell said. “In a lot of ways, the bullpen really won the game for us -- but some big hits too.”

Cincinnati’s bullpen was one of the top-performing units in the National League for much of the first half, but endured hard times often since the All-Star break and came into the night ranked seventh in the NL in ERA.

Lucas Sims started and gave up two second-inning runs and two hits. The next three relievers -- Matt Bowman (three innings), Amir Garrett (1 1/3 innings) and Sal Romano (one inning) did not allow a hit. Romano issued the one walk allowed amongst this trio.

In the bottom of the eighth with two outs, Kevin Gausman was pitching when Kevin Newman hit a single to center field. Two-way sensation Michael Lorenzen, who had just entered in center field during a double-switch, earned his first career outfield assist by throwing out Newman trying for a double.

Gausman opened the bottom of the ninth by walking Pablo Reyes before Adam Frazier hit a double off the right-field wall. With the infield playing in, Gausman struck out José Osuna and intentionally walked pinch-hitter Melky Cabrera to load the bases for Jake Elmore, who struck out with five infielders playing -- including Aristides Aquino, who took over at first base for one batter while Joey Votto moved over to man the area between first and second.

“In that situation, you’re trying to get a ground ball and give your team a chance to turn two,” Gausman said. “I made some really good pitches and ended up getting the strikeout.”

Gausman escaped by getting Erik González to foul out to first base, which sent the game into extras.

Closer Raisel Iglesias, who was tagged for his 12th loss of the season on a two-run walk-off homer by Newman on Friday, pitched a perfect 10th inning. It ended with Newman popping out in foul territory near first base.

“You go into a game where it’s going to be a bullpen day the entire game, to hold them to two runs is incredible,” Bell said. “We’ve had a lot of games where our pitching really stepped up, but tonight might have been the topper, really if you think about it.”

The ball was handed next to Alaniz, who overcame a two-out walk and a single for a scoreless 11th inning. When Iglesias batted against Alex McRae with two outs and Kyle Farmer on third base, he hit a line drive into center field and hustled to second base for an RBI double and go-ahead run.

Down to their last healthy position player, the Reds had catcher Juan Graterol on-deck to bat for Alaniz. But Bell called him back to let Alaniz bat for himself, not knowing he lacked any pro hitting experience. When he knocked his single to right-center field, the Reds' dugout howled with excitement and celebration.

“I guess he’s a good enough athlete to figure it out,” Bell said. “We wanted him to keep going there to pitch. In some ways, we were giving up the at-bat to keep him in the game, not only because we’re short but we like what he’s done since he’s been here. That’s what it takes to pitch at the end of a game like this. The bonus was the hit. That was fun to watch.”

In the bottom of the 12th, Alaniz retired the side in order with one strikeout to secure Cincinnati’s long night at the ballpark. He hadn’t pitched since Sept. 16 and wanted to keep the line moving with zeros and not be the reliever who gave up a run.

“I was talking to some of the guys, it was all hands on deck today,” Alaniz said. “I was just trying to get as many outs as I could.”