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3 takeaways: Reds fall late despite scrappy rally

Roark strikes out 6; the shift is on; Kemp ejected
@m_sheldon
April 2, 2019

CINCINNATI -- The way things began for starting pitcher Tanner Roark, his Reds debut could have been a complete dud. But Roark overcame his rough beginning and Cincinnati was in the game to the end before two doubles against Raisel Iglesias pushed the go-ahead run across for a 4-3 loss

CINCINNATI -- The way things began for starting pitcher Tanner Roark, his Reds debut could have been a complete dud. But Roark overcame his rough beginning and Cincinnati was in the game to the end before two doubles against Raisel Iglesias pushed the go-ahead run across for a 4-3 loss to the Brewers on Monday.

Reigning National League MVP award winner Christian Yelich missed his bid to become the first Major Leaguer in history to homer in each of his first five games. But, after he was hitless in his first four trips to the plate, Yelich kept Milwaukee alive vs. Iglesias with a two-out double to center field. He scored on Ryan Braun’s RBI double down the left-field line.

“We know how important he is to our team and we want him pitching in that situation. He will continue to do that,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He went up against a really good hitter, and then another one.”

Roark’s veteran experience was valuable

Roark, who was acquired from the Nationals in a December trade and part of the revamped Reds rotation, gave up three earned runs and six hits over 4 1/3 innings with three walks and six strikeouts. He threw 96 pitches, which included 34 first-inning pitches as the right-hander faced nine men.

“Just all over the place,” Roark said of his command in the first inning. “Obviously, not throwing strikes, letting the hitters feel comfortable up there. I had to throw fastballs.”

The first hit of the game was also the hardest vs. Roark, as Ryan Braun hit a hot one-out double to left field with 110.7 mph exit velocity, according to Statcast, on a first-pitch slider. Jesus Aguilar soon hit a two-run single to left field and Mike Moustakas ripped an RBI double for a 3-0 Milwaukee lead.

Roark was able to escape the inning with the bases left loaded and went on to retire 10 of his last 13 hitters. What was the course correction he made? Nothing, according to the pitcher.

“Just trusted my stuff and just attacking. Going out there and not being afraid of anything and just going after it,” Roark said. “Starting pitchers should pride themselves on ... their job is to stay out there as long as you can. You are going to have blips like that in the first inning where three, four runs, who knows? You can’t just throw in the towel. You have to keep going and not give up.”

Grandal beat the shift three times

On three occasions in the fourth, sixth and eighth innings, the Reds utilized a right-side shift on Brewers lefty hitter Yasmani Grandal that included having four men in the outfield. They did it vs. Grandal twice in a Spring Training game, and it worked to perfection. On Monday, Grandal notched three hits.

But the shift still did something important. It limited Grandal to three singles. His fourth-inning hit to the right field corner was close to where Yasiel Puig was positioned. Puig used his great arm to make a perfect throw and Grandal knew to stay at first base.

“You want to get outs from it but it’s also there for limiting the extra base. The main priority is you want to get outs,” Bell said.

Once viewed as an anomaly to have four outfielders vs. certain hitters, expect to see much more of the strategy from the Reds this season.

“It’s really the guys that have a larger fly ball rate,” Bell said. “You can’t do that against anybody that has a larger fly ball rate. It’s usually a guy that’s pulling the ball on the ground. We didn’t have anybody on the left side of the infield with Grandal. He doesn’t hit a lot of balls to the left side.”

Kemp ejected

Two batters after Puig hit a two-run double for his first hit with the Reds, left fielder Matt Kemp left him stranded when he was called out on strikes. Kemp argued the call from home plate umpire Jeff Nelson and was eventually thrown out of the game. The 2-2 slider from pitcher Zach Davies appeared to be low and away but still on the edge of the strike zone, according to Gameday.

“He was competing and it’s a huge at-bat right here,” Bell said. “He said something to Jeff Nelson and then it continued in the dugout. I don’t know exactly what was said. I heard yelling. I didn’t actually see him get ejected so it took me a minute to respond.”

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook.