In control early, Greene derailed by key HR, laborious innings
CINCINNATI -- Reds starting pitcher Hunter Greene seemed to have the Pirates in his control early on Opening Day, but his Thursday afternoon soon turned into one much shorter than he wanted during Cincinnati's 5-4 loss at Great American Ball Park.
Greene, who had five strikeouts through two innings, opened the top of the third facing the electric Oneil Cruz and had him in an 0-2 count. Before the next pitch, Greene was called for the club's first pitch timer violation under new rules and charged with a ball. It was 2-2 when a close slider at the bottom of the strike zone was called for ball three.
On a 101.3 mph full-count fastball at the top of the strike zone, Cruz clobbered it 111.1 mph off the bat for a home run to right field that made it a 1-1 game.
“Tyler [Stephenson] and I were going back and forth on signs. Didn’t get to it quick enough," Greene said. "Hopefully it doesn’t happen again. But it does happen. I feel like we’re still in a really good place with making that adjustment on those new changes.
"We just didn’t get down to it before delivering that pitch. We went back and forth, [Cruz] had a good at-bat. He just got me on the pitch.”
Did the violation call get into Greene's head?
“It probably looked that way. For me personally, I felt like I was locked in the whole at-bat," he said. "Just a couple of pitches that got away from me. Overall, I was very present in that at-bat.”
The top of the third inning saw Greene throw 32 pitches, including an eight-pitch walk to Andrew McCutchen. After a two-out hit and a visit from pitching coach Derek Johnson, Greene escaped with a called strikeout of Ke'Bryan Hayes.
"I think we just fell behind, and then they just kind of battled and made some at-bats go long," Stephenson said. "[Greene] competed incredibly. No moment is too big for him. I’m really proud of how he did."
In the fourth inning, Greene gave up a one-out double to Ji Hwan Bae, who stole third base, and walked Austin Hedges to put runners on the corners.
With Greene at 83 pitches, and Cruz back up, manager David Bell emerged and lifted his ace for reliever Fernando Cruz.
"He really had to work hard that [third] inning. He came out in the fourth not quite as sharp," Bell said. "If he would’ve got Hedges, he would’ve got [Oneil] Cruz to have a chance to get out of that inning.
"Hunter is going to get plenty of opportunities to go deeper into the game the rest of the year. We have a long way to go."
The move did not work. Fernando Cruz, who made his big league debut at 32 years old in September and posted a 1.23 ERA in 14 games, lacked command of his split-fingered fastball and threw several in the dirt. He walked three of his four batters -- including two with the bases loaded. A wild pitch brought in another run to put the Reds down, 4-1.
“Stuff happens. It is Opening Day, first game of the season," Cruz said. "I will keep working and do what I’ve been doing and get the ball up so they can swing.”
Greene was charged with three earned runs and five hits over 3 1/3 innings with three walks and eight strikeouts. Besides reaching triple digits with his fastball frequently, he had an effective slider.
"I think anybody performing at this level wants to go as long as they can -- especially as a starting pitcher. I felt great. Definitely could have kept going," Greene said. "[Bell] wanted to bring Cruz in and had a lot of trust in him. So did the rest of the team. Obviously, it wasn’t the best for him, but we still have the utmost confidence in Cruz."
The Reds got back into it with Spencer Steer hitting a homer to left-center field off Pirates ace Mitch Keller in the bottom of the fourth. Jason Vosler delivered a game-tying two-run triple to right field in the fifth.
Pittsburgh scored the go-ahead run in the eighth on Oneil Cruz's sacrifice fly against reliever Buck Farmer.
"Today is a tough day," Greene said. "We would have loved to have gotten the first one today. It’s all we talked about. We worked so hard. Our hard work is going to lead into the rest of the season.”