Cruz touts 'positive step' despite stumble vs. Dodgers

May 18th, 2024

LOS ANGELES -- For the Reds to have any reasonable shot at climbing back into contention, or even to reach a .500 record, their late-inning, high-leverage relievers will need to be airtight posting zeros.

Lately for , and for much of 2024 for closer Alexis Díaz, there have been too many crooked numbers. During Friday's 7-3 Reds loss to the Dodgers, Cruz gave up the deciding two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning and Díaz allowed Jason Heyward's two-run home run in the eighth.

“I think this is happening to me because I’m the right guy to handle it. This is happening to me because I’m ready to handle it," Cruz said.

Over his first 12 appearances this season, Cruz had a 1.59 ERA and became a key setup man in manager David Bell's bullpen. In eight games since May 1, Cruz has a 10.57 ERA.

“He’s started [the season] off great, kind of unhittable," Bell said. "He’s had a few times where he’s given up some runs. I thought tonight was exactly where he was earlier in the year. Certainly, that inning could have gone different. I thought the stuff was great.”

When the Reds beat the Dodgers on Thursday, their pitchers kept Mookie Betts and Shohei Ohtani hitless. On Friday, both superstars slugged home runs against starter Frankie Montas, with Betts leading off the bottom of the first inning with a drive to left field and Ohtani lifting an opposite-field, two-run homer in the third for a 3-0 Dodgers lead.

Cincinnati was down by two runs in the fifth inning when Stuart Fairchild led off with a homer to left field against James Paxton. In the sixth with two outs, Tyler Stephenson tied the game with a homer to left field.

Cruz took over for Lucas Sims for the bottom of the seventh inning and leadoff batter Kiké Hernández hit a full-count cutter to center field for a single. After Betts struck out, the Reds nearly got out of the inning when Ohtani scorched a grounder to first baseman Jeimer Candelario, who threw to second base for the force play. Shortstop Elly De La Cruz's rushed throw went into the seats for an error that gave Ohtani second base.

After an intentional walk to Freddie Freeman, Will Smith hit a first-pitch fastball that was up and away for an RBI single and the go-ahead run. With Teoscar Hernández in a 1-2 count, Cruz bounced a split-fingered fastball into the dirt for a wild pitch that scored Freeman.

Cruz still came away feeling there was improvement from his other recent games.

“It was a positive step for me,” Cruz said. “I think it was the best stuff all season today. I think my fastball was really good. All my pitches were really good. I just had a split that got away from me. I buried it, a run scored. When you throw splitters, your tendency to throw it in the dirt is a lot. That one got away from me.”

In the eighth with one out, Andy Pages hit a full-count slider from Díaz for a single. Next, Heyward lifted an 0-1 slider from Díaz for a two-run homer to right field to put the game away.

An All-Star closer last year, Díaz has a 7.47 ERA in 17 appearances this season.

“One pitch. And one pitch can make all the difference, I get it," Bell said of Díaz. "Other than that, I thought he threw the ball well. I thought the stuff was there.”

Cincinnati dropped to a 19-26 record. The last time the club won back-to-back games was April 23-24, which was also when the Reds reached their high mark of four games above .500 at 14-10.

“The score definitely didn’t dictate how close that game was, but you’re definitely not looking for moral victories here," Reds left fielder Spencer Steer said. "We want results. We want wins. We’ve got to find a way to bounce back tomorrow.”