CINCINNATI -- It's been a step forward followed by a step back lately for Sal Romano, and it was a tough night from the first pitch for the Reds right-hander in Tuesday's 8-1 loss to the Indians at Great American Ball Park.
Romano lasted just 1 2/3 innings and gave up six runs on seven hits with two walks and a strikeout. Trouble found him quickly in a 33-pitch first inning that saw the Indians plate four runs. The first five Cleveland hitters reached base -- three of them scored before the Reds recorded an out. Jose Ramirez opened the scoring with an RBI single, and Yonder Alonso followed with a two-run single of his own. Ramirez was 3-for-5 with a home run.
The second inning didn't bring better fortune to Romano, who gave up two more runs on two singles and a double, which prompted his early exit as Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman called for Michael Lorenzen out of the bullpen. The Indians have not been kind to Reds pitching in the first two games of this series, plating 18 runs on 28 hits.
Romano pitches well when he induces a lot of ground balls, and that was the case to a degree on Tuesday. But a lot of the balls found a hole, and Cleveland was able to string together hits. Romano fell behind in the count on 11 of the 14 hitters he faced, alongside two first-pitch hits and an 0-2 sacrifice fly from Alonso.
"I try to go to my fastball, obviously. But that didn't work today," Romano said. "I kept missing outside or down. I really wanted to focus on trying to hit down and away against a team like this. I was struggling to do that. It doesn't really matter where you put the ball when you're behind in the count. They're looking dead-red heater."
It has been an up-and-down season for Romano, who threw six innings of one-run, two-hit baseball in a win against the Mets in his last start. The right-hander is now 7-10 on the season with a 5.31 ERA. Romano has shown signs of evolving into the pitcher the Reds think he can be -- a mainstay in the starting rotation in the next couple of years -- but has yet to find much consistency.
"It's been like, pitch good for a couple of weeks, pitch a really, really bad one," Romano said. "There hasn't really been that mediocre game where we're still in the game, and we come back and end up winning the game. It's usually out of reach by the time I come out of the game. It's frustrating, but I know what I'm capable of. I've just got to keep getting better and go on another good run again."
Romano's first start against the Indians this season on July 10 started in a similar fashion. He gave up four runs in the first two innings, retired 12 in a row over the next four frames and made it 7 1/3 innings in a game that the Reds came back to win.
"In the previous games [in which] he's struggled, he gave up a few runs early, like against Cleveland and someone else," Riggleman said. "Then, he really found it and got the ground balls. Today he got the ground balls early, but every one of them was out of reach. I am not going to sit here and say Sal pitched great by any means, but a foot either way on about four or five of those ground balls, and he maybe gives up one or two runs."
Romano's early struggles made for an uphill battle for a Reds lineup facing Corey Kluber, one of the best pitchers in baseball. Kluber gave up a run on five hits with seven strikeouts and two walks in seven innings. The Reds were shut out through the first six innings and collected three hits. Kluber is 4-0 against the Reds in four starts and has given up six runs over 30 innings. Preston Tucker drove in the lone run on a single in Kluber's final inning, cashing in on a one-out triple from Tucker Barnhart.
The Reds bullpen did a nice job of controlling the damage after Romano's exit. Four pitchers combined to give up two runs on three hits for the final 7 1/3 innings of the game, including 4 1/3 innings from Lorenzen. The long relief appearance preserved the Cincinnati bullpen.
"Lorenzen did a great job," Riggleman said. "Mike really saved the bullpen for us. Our three right-handed relievers who normally pitch tired with a lead late in the ballgame all came in and saved our left-hander part of the bullpen. None of our left-handers had to get in that game."
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Hamilton makes tough running catch
Billy Hamilton covers more ground than most outfielders in baseball and put it on display again when he tracked down a fly ball in the gap hit by Lindor. The play was a 4-star catch per Statcast™. He had to cover 92 feet in 4.9 seconds to convert a 47 percent catch probability. The grab was his MLB-leading 14th catch of 4 or 5 stars (0-50 percent catch probability).
The Reds finish out this three game series with Cleveland on Wednesday at 7:10 p.m. ET with Robert Stephenson on the mound. Stephenson was called up from Triple-A Louisville last week to make a start against the Mets in his first appearance with the Reds this season. The right-hander struggled with command and gave up three runs on three hits with five walks and four strikeouts in four innings and suffered a loss. Shane Bieber will be on the mound for the Indians. He is 6-2 with a 4.24 ERA on the season.