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Reds lose control in rough 7th, fall to Cards

MLB.com @m_sheldon

CINCINNATI -- The Reds placed much of their hopes for progress this season on the arms of a young pitching staff. Not only has there not been any progress, it feels like things are going in reverse.

Thursday's 13-4 loss to the Cardinals gave the Reds a 2-10 record and five straight defeats. Cincinnati had battled back from two early deficits and took a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the third inning. But starting pitcher Sal Romano and the bullpen were unable to post zeros while allowing four home runs. By the ninth inning, position player Cliff Pennington took the mound to finish.

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CINCINNATI -- The Reds placed much of their hopes for progress this season on the arms of a young pitching staff. Not only has there not been any progress, it feels like things are going in reverse.

Thursday's 13-4 loss to the Cardinals gave the Reds a 2-10 record and five straight defeats. Cincinnati had battled back from two early deficits and took a 4-3 lead in the bottom of the third inning. But starting pitcher Sal Romano and the bullpen were unable to post zeros while allowing four home runs. By the ninth inning, position player Cliff Pennington took the mound to finish.

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"The guys are coming to work and doing all their work to get ready to win a ballgame. Right now, we haven't found a way to get it done," Pennington said. "It's not for lack of effort, preparation or talent. It just hasn't worked out so far."

St. Louis tied the game in the fifth inning, took a one-run lead in the sixth and ambushed a pair of rookie relievers for seven runs in the seventh to turn the game into a blowout. Three errors by the defense also played a part as shortstop Jose Peraza's error on a popup in the fifth led to the tying run. Right fielder Phillip Ervin made one error that led to a run in the first inning and misplayed a two-out fly ball by being a little casual with his approach in the seventh that went for a two-run double.

Video: STL@CIN: Martinez tallies his fifth RBI with a double

Romano labored through much of his 4 1/3 innings and allowed four runs (three earned), five hits and four walks with four strikeouts while throwing 95 pitches. Romano trailed, 2-0, after the top of the first on RBI singles with two outs by Jose Martinez and Yadier Molina. After the Reds rallied to tie the game in the bottom half of the inning, Romano surrendered a two-out solo homer to Marcell Ozuna in the third.

"That first inning has really been a problem," said Romano, who has a 5.87 ERA. "I know it's only been three starts in the season but I've got to be able to finish the inning. That's two times in a row where I have two outs and I'm a pitch away from getting out of it. I've got to keep learning from it."

An RBI single by Jesse Winker and an error on the play by Ozuna in left field made it a 2-2 game in the first inning. Scooter Gennett's two-run single in the third to answer Ozuna's homer provided Romano with a 4-3 lead. But in the fifth, a rally started when Peraza dropped a Dexter Fowler popup in short left field. With the bases loaded and one out, Romano walked Martinez to plate the tying run.

Reliever Austin Brice -- the losing pitcher in Wednesday's 12-inning walk-off win by the Phillies -- gave up a projected 464-foot homer, per Statcast™, to Paul DeJong to begin the sixth before Amir Garrett worked out of a bases-loaded jam.

Video: STL@CIN: Gennett dives, throws out Ozuna to end jam

It came apart in the seventh when reliever Zack Weiss made a disastrous Major League debut. Weiss' first two batters -- Martinez and Molina -- both slugged 2-0 pitches for home runs. Weiss walked the next two batters on nine pitches. Rookie Tanner Rainey entered and walked the next three batters, leading to two more runs, before also allowing a sacrifice fly and a two-run double by Martinez, who went on to enjoy a six-RBI night.

"In a situation after a three-inning start in the first game in Philly and a long [12-inning] game yesterday, I needed the young guys to be able to come in and pitch today," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "We knew that, coming in, unless Sal could go deep in the game, it was inevitable that those kids were going to pitch. That's not a bad thing. They're part of a big league bullpen and will have to pitch. Unfortunately, they really struggled to throw it over."

The Reds' pitching staff has the highest ERA in the Major Leagues at 6.13. After having the fewest innings pitched in the Majors last season, Cincinnati's starting rotation entered the night tied with the Marlins for fewest innings pitched in the National League in 2018. No Reds starter has completed more than six innings.

SOUND SMART
Weiss became the first pitcher in Reds history to allow at least four earned runs without recording an out in his big league debut. He was the first in the Majors to record the dubious feat in 14 years, when Lino Urdaneta did it for the Tigers in 2004.

According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the only other Major League team to have pitchers issue five straight walks since 2015 was the Astros on Sept. 9, 2017. The Reds had never done it, at least in the Expansion Era of baseball since 1961.

Video: STL@CIN: Pham extends the lead with an RBI walk

With the bullpen having endured heavy use, Price decided to avoid using Kevin Quackenbush, Jared Hughes, Wandy Peralta or closer Raisel Iglesias and opted for Weiss and Rainey.

"There's no other way to do it," Price said. "You can blow your bullpen out in April or May because you don't want to expose young pitchers. I can't do that. I won't do that. I'm not going to blow out other pitchers simply because I'm afraid to use young, inexperienced pitchers. It was a tough one."

YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Pennington, who initially entered the game in the seventh inning at third base, became the first position player to pitch for the Reds since Gennett on Aug. 14 of last season.

"I did all right. I just tried to throw strikes," said Pennington, who allowed two walks and a two-out RBI double with a strikeout. "Obviously, it wasn't perfect. I walked a couple of guys. I tried to throw strikes, get out of the game and get it over with."

Pennington had previous experience on the mound as the only position player to ever pitch in a postseason game when he appeared for the Blue Jays vs. the Royals in Game 4 of the 2015 American League Championship Series. More >

Video: STL@CIN: Infielder Pennington strikes out DeJong

MITEL REPLAY OF THE DAY
With the bases loaded and two outs in the top of the sixth as Cincinnati trailed by a run, Ozuna grounded a ball up the middle, and Gennett knocked it down with a dive to his right and threw to first base for the third out. St. Louis challenged the call on the field, but after a replay review, it was determined the call would stand.

Video: STL@CIN: Gennett makes diving stop, gets Ozuna in 6th

UP NEXT
After getting a day off, Joey Votto should be back in the lineup against Luke Weaver and the Cardinals when the series continues at 6:40 p.m. ET on Friday at Great American Ball Park. It will be a chance for Reds starting pitcher Tyler Mahle to rebound from a rough previous outing. In a 5-0 loss at Pittsburgh on Sunday, the righty gave up five runs in 4 2/3 innings, including two home runs in the fifth.

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 and listen to his podcast.

Cincinnati Reds, Sal Romano