CINCINNATI -- Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman has quickly gained a reputation for being quick to remove his starting pitchers. But on Sunday vs. the Marlins during an 8-5 loss, Riggleman's removal of Brandon Finnegan after 3 1/3 innings almost seemed like a showing of maximum patience.
Finnegan needed 39 pitches and faced nine batters in the top of the first inning as Miami took the quick 4-0 lead. It also continued a trend of the left-hander putting his own team in early deficits. With a 16.20 first-inning ERA, he's given up at least one run in the opening inning during four of his five starts.
"We didn't get much out of Brandon today," Riggleman said. "I don't think it's physical. His velocity indicates that he's kind of where he's been for about the last year. I think he's just not commanding the strike zone, getting behind in the count, putting people in hitter's counts."
The game opened with a four-pitch walk to J.T. Realmuto and it was a 3-2 count when Martin Prado followed with a grounder to third base. Eugenio Suarez's fielder's choice to second base was not in time, and Scooter Gennett's errant throw to first base put runners on second and third.
"Not throwing strikes was what really got him in trouble because going 3-2, putting them in a running situation ended up being a big play," Riggleman said. "Then the runner is not on top of Scooter when he gets the ball. He actually beat the throw to second and makes it a little tougher throw for Scooter. Anything but a 3-2 count and we've got a double play there."
Starlin Castro capitalized and hit a two-run single to left field. Once the next batter, Brian Anderson, walked, Riggleman had Dylan Floro warming up in the bullpen before an out was recorded.
Cameron Maybin's one-out RBI single, followed by Anderson scoring on a Lewis Brinson groundout, made it a 4-0 game. Finnegan returned for the second inning and Realmuto led off again and lined the first pitch for a double, before later scoring on a Castro sacrifice fly.
Finnegan breezed through a five-pitch third inning, but a one-out single in the fourth by the opposing pitcher -- Dan Straily -- brought the afternoon to a close. It was the sixth hit of Straily's career. Floro took over and finished the inning, before David Hernandez contributed two scoreless innings. Rain before the top of the fifth inning delayed the game for one hour and 13 minutes.
"When you get down and then we get somebody up in the bullpen immediately, and then the next inning we have to get that person up again, we're going to lose that person in the bullpen if we do it again," Riggleman said. "We either have to make the move or not. So, we decided to make the move to go to the next guy.
"We can't have him up three times and not use him. It's like he's getting worn out down there. Brandon's just got to not put us in that situation."
Finnegan was not happy that he got taken out early, as he felt that he was back on track in the game.
"I'm definitely upset," Finnegan said. "Like I said last time, it's not my call. It was a crappy way to start a game, especially giving up four runs. It's tough for the hitters to come in ready to hit when you're down 4-0. It [stinks], but I felt like I settled [down] after the first and got two quick innings and a quick out in the [fourth]. I fell behind Straily and had to throw him a cookie and he got a hit. It just [stinks]."
Through his five starts, Finnegan is 0-3 with an 8.27 ERA, while the Reds are winless when he starts. His last two games featured blown saves by the bullpen after he left with a lead. However, he reached just five innings in those games, while he's lasted no more than 4 1/3 innings in his other three starts of this season.
Riggleman was asked if the Reds were considering a rotation change to move Finnegan out.
"I don't really think I can address that really at this time," Riggleman said. "We've just got to get better starts whether it's Brandon or somebody in that slot. I don't know. He's better than this. I know that."
Finnegan, 25, made 31 starts and worked 172 innings in 2016, but was limited to four starts last season because of injuries to his trapezius and teres major muscle near his shoulder. A right shoulder injury away from the field ensured he wouldn't pitch again in 2017. A left biceps strain in Spring Training had him start this season on the disabled list.
"I think I'm trying to be too fine with [hitters]," Finnegan said. "It's something I've never been. I've never been a guy who spots up. I've got to let my pitches work. It feels like a slow start for a hitter. I just have to keep working. The only way to get out of a slump is to keep working and pushing."
If the Reds go to someone else, Amir Garrett has been spectacular out of the bullpen -- including a scoreless two-thirds of an inning Sunday -- but would need to get stretched out for starts. At Triple-A Louisville, Robert Stephenson has been erratic with a 4.94 ERA, but is coming off a seven-inning start with two runs allowed and nine strikeouts. Cody Reed has made three starts but hasn't crossed the five-inning plateau yet. Anthony DeSclafani (strained left oblique) is starting to pitch in extended spring games, but isn't eligible to come off the 60-day DL until May 28.
Will the Reds give Finnegan room to break the slump?
"I hope they would," Finnegan said. "I feel like I've established myself here. But it's not my call. I just have to keep pushing forward and keep putting the work in with Danny [Darwin, the pitching coach] like I have after every start."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED
Four hits, four RBIs for Votto: The Reds offense came alive against Straily in the third inning. Following a Jesse Winker two-out walk, Joey Votto lifted the first pitch for a two-run homer to left-center field that made it a 5-2 game. Votto also notched a two-out RBI double in the bottom of the seventh and an RBI single in the ninth for a four-hit and four-RBI game, but Cincinnati still dropped two of three in the series.
Garrett has more strikeouts this season (21) than walks and hits combined (18). Through 15 appearances, he has a 1.96 ERA.
Homer Bailey will be making the 200th start of his Major League career on Monday when he pitches vs. the Mets at 7:10 p.m. ET in the first game of a three-game series. The milestone start will likely mean less to Bailey than notching his first victory of 2018. He is 0-4 with a 4.81 ERA in seven starts and the Reds are winless in all of those games. New York will start left-hander P.J. Conlon in place of Jacob deGrom, who went on the disabled list with a hyperextended right elbow.