WASHINGTON -- Alex Wood wasn’t pitching poorly for the Reds against the Nationals on Tuesday at Nationals Park, and he had only thrown 78 pitches through five innings. But when it was Wood’s turn to bat in the sixth with his team trailing by three runs, manager David Bell made his move and went to a pinch-hitter -- even if it meant that a shorthanded bullpen would have to cover at least three innings.
“I mean, I got [the decision],” said Wood, who gave up three runs and six hits with no walks and four strikeouts over five innings. “We were in a tight ballgame and needed to score some runs. I felt like that was the best decision we really wanted to make."
There were opportunities, but the runs were just out of reach against starter Joe Ross and Washington’s bullpen during a 3-1 loss. Cincinnati has dropped three in a row, but because of a Cubs loss, it didn’t lose any more ground in the standings. The fourth-place Reds remain 7 1/2 games back in the National League Central at a time when they really need to be gaining ground in a hurry.
For Bell, the decision to pull Wood wasn’t difficult in the moment.
“Nothing to do with how Alex was pitching," Bell said. “The fact was, we were down three runs. In order to have a shot to come back there, to get a runner on there and have the middle of our order come up with a chance to get back in the game right there, it didn’t work out, but I’d do it again for sure. At this point, the bullpen is a consideration, but we have to win games. We have to give our best effort to try and make that happen. I was comfortable with taking the shot there.”
Down 1-0 in the fourth, the inability to finish a batter with two strikes cost Wood. On a 1-2 pitch, Juan Soto crushed a solo homer to right field. Two batters later with two outs, Wood had Brian Dozier in an 0-2 count, but Dozier worked it back to 2-2 before slugging a homer to left field to make it a 3-0 game.
“I felt all right. Still just waiting for that time to click where it ties everything together,” said Wood, who is 1-1 with a 5.59 ERA in four starts. “I felt my stuff has been all right. I felt like I made one bad pitch to Dozier and the one to Soto, I didn’t think it was a bad pitch. He just put a good swing on it and he’s a pretty good player. Overall, I didn’t think it was too bad. Gave us a chance to win. Sometimes that’s the way these ballgames go.”
Ross stymied Cincinnati's lineup by retiring 14 of his first 16 batters. Pinch-hitting for Wood in the sixth, Jose Peraza drew a one-out walk from Ross. Jesse Winker followed with a single to center field that had Peraza try to run from first to third base. But Victor Robles and his strong arm threw out Peraza in a close play -- giving him two assists in two nights.
“I think I didn’t read the ball well. I think it was my fault,” Peraza said. “He has to make a really good throw.”
Bell had no issue with Peraza going for it.
“Geez, that was a great play getting to it, great throw, great tag and he’s out by an inch,” Bell said. “How do you not go there? I mean, are you going to anticipate all those things and try to judge it by an inch? It’s unfortunate he didn’t make it, because that would’ve been nice to have second and third. But that’s one of those plays where I do appreciate and encourage the aggressive baserunning. They did everything right to make the play.”
Despite the play being close, the Reds did not request a replay challenge.
“We have all the replays. We have a system,” Bell said. “If there was any shot, I was absolutely going to challenge it. With our system and all the different angles, there was no chance. If there was any chance, yeah.”
Winker went to second base on Robles' throw and Joey Votto walked, but both runners were stranded on Eugenio Suarez’s groundout.
Cincinnati finally scored in the seventh when Nick Senzel hit a two-out double to center field and came home on Jose Iglesias’ RBI single to center field. There would be other chances. In the eighth inning with two outs and two on, rookie home run machine Aristides Aquino popped out to third base to end the inning.
Josh VanMeter hit a leadoff double in the ninth against Daniel Hudson, and Freddy Galvis put the tying run on first base with a pinch-hit single in his Reds debut. Tucker Barnhart battled Hudson hard -- with four foul balls -- but struck out to end the game, after which he pounded his bat into the dirt in disgust. The Reds were 2-for-11 with runners in scoring position on the night.
“We came up short,” Bell said. “We did give ourselves a chance there.”