CINCINNATI -- Early on in Wednesday's game vs. the Rockies, struggling Reds starting pitcher Sal Romano appeared to be setting himself up for success.Romano entered the game with a 9.75 ERA -- including three home runs and five walks -- in the first inning this season. In his 13th start
CINCINNATI -- Early on in Wednesday's game vs. the Rockies, struggling Reds starting pitcher Sal Romano appeared to be setting himself up for success.
Romano entered the game with a 9.75 ERA -- including three home runs and five walks -- in the first inning this season. In his 13th start of 2018 on Wednesday, Romano posted a first-inning zero. But the right-hander couldn't stop his recent decline during the rest of his outing as the Reds were handed a 6-3 defeat at Great American Ball Park.
"I gave up five runs, so it doesn't really matter how the first inning went," Romano said.
In five-plus innings, Romano allowed five earned runs on six hits, with one walk and six strikeouts. Now 3-7 with a 6.23 ERA this season, he has a 10.72 ERA over his last five starts -- having given up 27 earned runs over the stretch of 22 2/3 innings.
Romano was a potential candidate for rotation removal when Anthony DeSclafani was activated from the disabled list to debut on Tuesday. Instead, the Reds moved Homer Bailey to the bullpen before he went on the DL. Romano certainly senses the extreme need to find his way back to better starts -- similar to the 3.17 ERA he enjoyed over his final eight outings of 2017.
"I'm extremely frustrated," Romano said. "I'm working hard in between my starts to get better. It's not the problem. I've just got to execute during the game and get guys out when I need to. I just haven't been doing that the last month. I better turn things around soon."
After getting out of the scoreless first with only Nolan Arenado's two-out double, Romano effectively used his slider to strike out his first two batters in the second inning. Then, he walked Ian Desmond and gave up an RBI double to right field by a hitter who was then batting .159, Rockies catcher Tony Wolters.
Cincinnati promptly made it a 1-1 game on Jose Peraza's RBI single and took a one-run lead in the third inning on Scooter Gennett's sacrifice fly.
Trouble found Romano in the fourth when Trevor Story hit a one-out, ground-rule double and Gerardo Parra hit an RBI single to right field before Desmond's two-run homer to left field made it a 4-2 game.
"I hung a curveball to Desmond and he hit it out of the ballpark, and I paid for it," Romano said. "I know there are a lot of good things I did today and the stat sheet doesn't show it. But it doesn't matter, I gave up five runs."
That inning was particularly disappointing to Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman, who would have liked to see Romano hold the advantage.
"We gave him a 2-1 lead and they got three [runs]. It's easier said than done, but pitching coaches talk about it all the time -- a shutdown inning," Riggleman said. "Your team scores you a run, you have to go put a zero up. Of course, everybody is trying to do that. We need to minimize it. Give up a run, but we can't give up three there."
Gennett's RBI double in the fifth inning scored Joey Votto to narrow the Rockies' lead. Romano, who worked a 1-2-3 top of the fifth and had thrown 85 pitches, returned for the sixth and gave up Carlos Gonzalez's hard-hit double to left-center field before being removed. Michael Lorenzen issued a two-out walk before Wolters burned the Reds again with an RBI single that scored Gonzalez.
According to Statcast™, Romano is yielding harder contact this season than he did as a rookie. Batters entered the night with an average exit velocity of 89 mph against him, compared to 85.2 mph last season. They are barreling balls 8 percent of the time, nearly double the 4.4 percent mark hitters held against Romano in 2017.
In many ways, Romano's stuff showed signs of being more effective than the past few starts.
"The first inning he came out cleaner," Riggleman said. "He showed signs of getting back to where he was last year. But the results are just not there."
At Triple-A Louisville, Robert Stephenson had been pitching well and seemed like a plausible promotion possibility. As it happened, Stephenson also worked on Wednesday and didn't do well. In 3 1/3 innings vs. Pawtucket, he gave up five earned runs, five hits and four walks with five strikeouts and two home runs.
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Gennett stays hot: On the one-year anniversary of his historic four-homer game vs. the Cardinals, Gennett extended his hitting streak to five games with his double in the fifth. It was also his 78th hit of the season. The last Reds player to have that many hits on June 6 of a calendar year was Sean Casey, who had 81 hits on June 6, 2004. Gennett is second in the National League lead with a .344 average.
Overall, Riggleman wasn't pleased, because the Reds were 3-for-16 with runners in scoring position and stranded 13.
"We just have to get some timely hits. Getting three runs out of those  hits today, that's not enough," Riggleman said. "We didn't play good, period. Still, with that many hits, we'd like to be able to put five or six on the board. Just have to keep getting after them."
Votto was 2-for-5 in the game but came up empty twice in run-scoring chances when he struck out with two on to end the sixth and flied out to left field with two out and two on in the eighth. His fifth-inning double carried far and went off of the wall in right-center field, but Votto hasn't hit a home run since May 13 and his last RBI was notched on May 16.
Votto's 18-game streak without an RBI is the longest of his career. Remarkably, during that RBI-less streak he is batting .348 and has raised his overall average from .284 to .308
YOU GOTTA SEE THIS
Just about everyone made a mistake on a bizarre play that occurred in the eighth. Gonzalez opened the inning with a fairly routine fly ball to the right-center-field gap. The ball hung in the air with plenty of time for Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton to make the catch, but miscommunication with right fielder Scott Schebler led Hamilton to drop the ball, and it rolled to the wall.
Hamilton threw to Gennett, who dropped the ball as Gonzalez stumbled between second and third. Gennett recovered to comically flip the baseball to no one in particular as Gonzalez scampered back to second base. Hamilton was charged with an error on the play. More >
HE SAID IT
"He gave us a chance. But when you give up four in three innings or whatever it was, that's usually not going to work." -- Riggleman, on Romano
The Reds will wrap their series vs. the Rockies with a 12:35 p.m. ET contest on Thursday, in a game available on MLB Network outside of the Cincinnati area. The last time Cincy faced Rockies starter Tyler Anderson was on May 26 at Coors Field, when Gennett went 5-for-5 with a first-inning solo homer en route to a 6-5 Reds victory. Tyler Mahle allowed four earned runs and six hits over a five-inning no-decision in that game, and will face Anderson in the rematch.
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.