CINCINNATI -- If Tyler Mahle had started a game for the Reds earlier this week, when the offense was quiet, giving up a pair of first-inning home runs could have been dooming. But things have suddenly turned the past couple of days.
Mahle buckled down for a superb performance, and Cincinnati's suddenly perky lineup roared back for a 6-5 victory over Chicago at Great American Ball Park.
"It takes a lot of toughness to do what he did in the first inning, [gave up] a couple runs, and then just stayed after it and shut down a good lineup for several innings, went deep into the game," Reds manager David Bell said. "We've seen that before, where he gets into a real rhythm. And once that happens, he can go deep into the game. And he should feel really, really proud of that effort, because it wasn't easy and he really responded after those couple runs, and it was really the key to the game. Outstanding performance."
With starter Wade Miley going on the injured list and the Reds’ second doubleheader in three days looming, Cincinnati’s pitching could be in danger of being stretched thin. That's why the outing Mahle had was critical.
Mahle opened the night by allowing a pair of solo home runs in the first inning to Anthony Rizzo and Kyle Schwarber. Those were the only two hits Mahle gave up over 6 2/3 innings and 106 pitches. After the Schwarber homer, he cruised through a stretch where he retired nine of the next 10 batters -- including eight in a row.
"I could have crumbled after that first inning," said Mahle, who walked two and struck out 11. "I could have totally [given] away that game. Me and Tuck[er Barnhart] really hung in there and kept battling. It was all we could do. We definitely kept away from weak contact, a lot of swings and misses. Some pop flies to the warning track were kind of scary, especially after that first inning. We were able to get through it.”
Mahle threw first-pitch strikes to 18 of his 22 batters -- and 15 of the first 16. The key was his effective slider, which he used to open vs. hitters 14 times with two whiffs, five called strikes, two fouls and one ball in play -- a Rizzo groundout in the third inning -- according to Statcast. His four-seam fastball was also strong throughout. Mahle fanned Schwarber for his 11th and final strikeout in the sixth -- and it clocked in at 96.7 mph.
"Some guys on that team are pretty picky hitters, pretty patient," Mahle said. "We knew we had to attack the zone and then focus on putting them away after that.”
Cincinnati has won three consecutive games for the first time since Aug. 3, and it's no coincidence it has come as the offense has started clicking. Coming off a 12-run, 21-hit performance on the Brewers during Thursday's doubleheader sweep, the Reds notched 11 hits.
Eugenio Suárez led off the second inning with a homer to left field, and Jesse Winker began the fourth with a big fly to right that tied the game at 2. Suárez followed Winker with a double and scored the go-ahead run on Matt Davidson's RBI single to right-center field.
During a two-out rally in the fifth, Suárez drove in two more runs with a bloop single into center field. In the eighth, Freddy Galvis' leadoff homer to right field made it a four-run game and proved huge when the Cubs hit a pair of homers in the ninth to cut the deficit to one run. Raisel Iglesias got the final two outs for his fourth save.
Through five games (four starts), Mahle is 1-1 with a 3.91 ERA, a 1.13 WHIP and 12.52 strikeouts per nine innings.
"Mahle just locked in, and he went outside and competed. He did a really good job," Suárez said."He commanded his pitches. [He] and Tucker did a really good job, because we never give up. We just support him. We’re happy to help our pitcher win the game."