Lively earns first win as starter since 2017: 'He's having fun'

May 25th, 2023

CINCINNATI -- Starting pitcher Ben Lively had already thrown a season-high 93 pitches through five innings for the Reds against the Cardinals on Wednesday. When manager David Bell and pitching coach Derek Johnson inquired whether Lively had one more inning left to give, the response was quick.

"They just asked me if I was good. I said, 'Hell yeah,'" Lively replied.

Then Lively threw 10 more pitches to complete the sixth inning.

“That’s why he’s back here, really," Bell said. "That attitude. He’s having fun. He’s enjoying every moment of it. He’s not taking it for granted. He’s making the most of every pitch that he throws out there.”

The Reds have waited a while to get a quality start from a member of their rotation. But it's been nowhere near as long as Lively has waited to earn a victory as a starting pitcher, which he got during a 10-3 win over the Cardinals at Great American Ball Park.

Lively gave up two earned runs and five hits with two walks and eight strikeouts over his six innings. His runs came via solo homers by Brendan Donovan and Lars Nootbaar.

While helping a well-worn bullpen, Lively earned his first win as a starting pitcher since he was with the Phillies facing the Mets on Sept. 29, 2017.

"That's what I love about being a starter, what I do. Give the boys a break. Everyone needs a break," Lively said.

While Cincinnati certainly would like to get Hunter Greene and Graham Ashcraft on track consistently and Nick Lodolo healthy again as their "big three" starters, the club certainly welcomed Lively's performance.

"You can learn a lot about how he’s going about it," Bell said. "There’s a lot to be said just for changing speeds, mixing your pitches and throwing strikes and just competing like that.”

The last quality start produced by a Reds pitcher came from Ashcraft on May 2, at San Diego. In the 18 games between then and Wednesday, their rotation was 1-8 with a 7.06 ERA. Its 6.20 overall ERA is ranked 29th out of 30 MLB clubs.

Over four games since his May 9 callup from Triple-A Louisville -- which includes two long-relief appearances and two starts -- Lively is 2-2 with a 2.65 ERA.

Lively, 31, threw six different pitches against St. Louis hitters. He established his fastball on the inner half well, but his best pitch was his slider. It drew seven whiffs out of eight swings as he threw it 22 times.

"He’s working in the zone, he has a bunch of different pitches. He’s able to mix it up and be unpredictable with it," said catcher Tyler Stephenson, who had two hits and two RBIs.

Originally a fourth-round selection by the Reds in the 2013 MLB Draft, Lively was traded to the Phillies on Dec. 31, 2014, for outfielder Marlon Byrd. After debuting in the big leagues with the Phillies, he moved on to the Royals and the D-backs' Triple-A club before spending 2020-21 pitching in Korea.

Lively returned to the Reds organization with Louisville last season and re-signed a Minor League deal in the offseason. He was the beneficiary of superb offensive support as the Reds notched a season-high 18 hits while spreading the wealth around the lineup.

• Everybody except for No. 9 hitter Jose Barrero had at least one hit. Seven Reds hitters had at least two hits.

• Rookie Spencer Steer notched four hits with a two-run single in the seventh inning and two runs scored.

• Kevin Newman had two hits and three RBIs, with his two-run double during the first inning giving Lively and the Reds a 4-0 lead.

• Matt McLain hit a fourth-inning drive to the wall in right-center field, where Óscar Mercado made a leaping catch attempt. The ball bounced off Mercado's glove and over the wall for McLain's second big league homer and second in as many nights.

The early run support was key but it wasn't all smooth sailing for Lively. He opened the top of the second inning by walking Donovan before Tommy Edman singled. Then Lively struck out Alec Burleson with a 91.1 mph fastball and picked up groundouts from Mercado and Nootbaar.

“I thought that was the difference," Bell said. "For any pitcher out there, it could have gone different, especially against that offense. You get a big lead, and if you can shut them down right away, it takes the momentum away a little bit. He certainly wasn’t out of the woods after that inning, but it helped him a lot. He just rolled from there."