'Red Dawgs' preach 'next guy up' mentality

Cincy bullpen unveils new moniker, embraces underdog spirit

May 14th, 2021

For a Reds bullpen that has taken some lumps this season -- and entered Thursday with a National League-worst 5.35 ERA -- Wednesday was a big day for the entire group.

During the 5-1 win over the Pirates in 10 innings, four relievers combined to throw 5 1/3 perfect innings following starter Sonny Gray. Tejay Antone, Sean Doolittle, Lucas Sims and Heath Hembree together retired all 16 batters that they faced, combining to compile nine strikeouts.

“You just pass the baton on to the next guy,” said Sims, who pitched two innings with four strikeouts. “Go out there and do your job and pick each other up. Next man up mentality. It was a really good team win.”

The staff is hopeful that Wednesday’s effort could be a confidence-building springboard going forward.

“That lets the boys know how good we are,” said Antone, who struck out three over 1 1/3 innings. “Everyone in that bullpen can do that. Next guy up. Everyone wants the ball. I think that’s kind of our mentality. We’re the Red Dawgs out there, so coming to prove everyone wrong.”

The bullpen created Red Dawg sweatshirts after reading some preseason predictions that indicated that the Reds would not have a good season in 2021.

“We’re the underdogs. We are going to wear that mentality,” Antone said. “We want to be the underdogs, so they kind of moved it to the Red Dawgs. We love it. It’s fun. It kind of gives us something to joke about, but at the same time, be serious about and do together.”

Doolittle, a veteran of successful teams in Oakland and Washington, has liked how Reds relievers have bonded as a group and believes that will serve them well.

“Personality and character wise, this is one of the best bullpens I have ever been a part of,” Doolittle said. “I really think this bullpen works because even though we don’t have any hard and fast defined roles, the guys are really supportive of each other. The guys genuinely pull for each other. The guys are invested in everyone else around them as much as themselves. I hope we can continue to improve because it’s as good as a group as I’ve ever had the privilege to be a part of. Let’s keep it going.”

Antone’s lofty goals

Antone has a 2.41 ERA in 11 appearances and he has stranded all eight of his inherited runners this season. On April 9 vs. Arizona, he achieved one 2021 goal by having a fastball reach 100 mph (technically, 99.5 mph). The right-hander has continued to set high standards for the rest of his season.

“The big one this year: I want to be on the All-Star team,” Antone said Thursday. “I want to be amongst the best players in this league. I think that would be a huge accomplishment for me. And it’s probably a little out of the realm, but yeah, I wanted to win Cy Young also this year. I always have to shoot high. If you’re not trying to be the best in the league, then you’re just wasting your time anyway. I’ll just keep shooting for good, quality outings, helping the team win and I think some of these things can line up.”

Small change pays off for Doolittle

Entering Thursday, right-handed hitters are batting .333 vs. the left-handed Doolittle this season, compared to .167 for lefty hitters. On Wednesday, he notched outs against back-to-back righties when Bryan Reynolds was called out on strikes and Kevin Newman flied out to left field.

Before pitching in both Tuesday and Wednesday’s games, Doolittle had eight days off from working. He used the time to make a couple of adjustments.

“If I wanted it to be inside to a righty, I wasn’t quite getting it all the way there and giving them a chance to see it. I wasn’t controlling counts very well against righties,” Doolittle explained. “One of the things we experimented with was moving on the rubber. My entire career, I’ve been pitching from the extreme first base side of the rubber. Just during this time off, I experimented with moving my foot closer to the center of the rubber. [It’s] a really small sample size, [but it] has allowed me to execute to both sides of the plate better against righties.”

Lorenzen cleared to throw

Injured Reds pitcher Michael Lorenzen got some good news recently. Lorenzen, who has been out since mid-March because of a right shoulder strain, had a follow-up MRI that showed that he’s been healing well after a pair of platelet-rich plasma injections.

Lorenzen, who is rehabilitating at the Reds' complex in Goodyear, Ariz., was cleared to begin a throwing program.

“I was just texting with him today. He’s very excited,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He wants to join our team as quickly as possible, but realizes he’s got to be patient. There’s going to be some time to build back up. But that was the first step to getting him back. That was great news for us and for Michael.”