CINCINNATI -- During a month in which the Reds have used a patchwork rotation with rookies and assorted fill-ins in their effort to reach the postseason, one of those rookies -- Connor Phillips -- gave them their best start of September.
“It feels like it’s been a special season so far. To see young players come up and to take on the challenge and to perform in big situations is fun. It’s how it should be," said first baseman Joey Votto, who had two hits, including a two-run single in the seventh inning. "Connor is another example of one of our young, prospect-type of players or callups who performed well and has given us an important performance in a meaningful game.”
- Games remaining: vs. MIN (2), vs. PIT (3), at CLE (2), at STL (3)
- Standings update: The Reds (79-73, .5197) moved mere percentage points behind the Cubs (78-72, .520) for the third National League Wild Card. Cincinnati holds the tiebreaker over both Chicago and Arizona (79-72), which currently has the second Wild Card, after winning the season series against both clubs. The Marlins (78-73), who are a half-game behind Cincinnati, have that tiebreaker over the Reds based on intradivision record, since they tied their season series, 3-3.
It was the first seven-inning start for the Reds since Graham Ashcraft on Aug. 22 and only the third start of at least six innings in September. Phillips allowed two runs on three hits and one walk with seven strikeouts while throwing 93 pitches (62 strikes).
“I think everything tonight kind of clicked. I was able to get ahead early, and whenever I do that, the outcomes are usually pretty good," said Phillips, who threw a first-pitch strike to 18 of 26 batters.
Two of Minnesota's hits against Phillips were solo homers -- from Royce Lewis in the fourth inning and Alex Kirilloff in the seventh.
Otherwise, the rookie right-hander was in complete command while getting picked up by the offense. After both homers, the Reds boosted Phillips by scoring runs in the bottom half of both innings.
“The guys around here got your back. Tonight was a great team win," Phillips said.
Monday marked the first day that Phillips was actually on Cincinnati's 40-man roster after he was recalled from Triple-A Louisville earlier in the day. He made his two previous starts as a substitute player called up during the COVID-19 outbreak that put six players on the injured list earlier this month.
Neither of those outings went longer than 4 2/3 innings. On Monday, Phillips didn't allow his first hit until Lewis went deep to lead off the fourth for Minnesota.
"We’ve talked about how important these games are," Reds manager David Bell said. "It’s a good hitting team over there. He goes deep into the game, which gives our bullpen another break for the day. In so many ways, it was just a huge start for our team.”
Cincinnati took a 2-0 lead in the second inning against Twins starter Joe Ryan. Noelvi Marte's one-out RBI single scored Tyler Stephenson. Next, Will Benson hit a deep drive to center field, but he was robbed of a three-run homer by Michael A. Taylor's leaping catch at the fence. Benson settled for a sacrifice fly that scored Votto.
With two outs in the fourth inning, Benson got some revenge by hitting a first-pitch splitter from Ryan several rows into the right-center-field seats for a two-run homer and a 4-1 Reds lead. The lead expanded to two runs when Cincinnati added some insurance in the seventh inning. Spencer Steer hit an RBI single, while Votto contributed a two-out, two-run single to put the game away.
The Reds have won five of their past seven games. Over the final two weeks of the regular season, the Twins are the only team with a winning record they'll face.
Cincinnati's rotation is ranked 28th in Major League Baseball in ERA and has just one starter from its Opening Day roster still active in Hunter Greene. The club announced Monday that Ashcraft -- who hasn't pitched since Sept. 1 -- would have season-ending right toe surgery on Tuesday.
Greene, Andrew Abbott, Brandon Williamson and swingman Ben Lively are the expected four starters over the final two weeks. Lively will likely get the bulk of the innings on Tuesday after Fernando Cruz serves as the opener.
Could Phillips factor for another opportunity?
“I think what he experienced tonight, it can go a long way just in his confidence for a young player like that. We have to consider that," Bell said. "He will definitely be considered for another start.”