'They're dawgs': Reds' bullpen keeping them in playoff hunt

September 14th, 2023

DETROIT -- When Sam Moll coaxed a lineout for the second out in the second inning on Thursday at Comerica Park, it gave Cincinnati’s bullpen a season-best 21 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings.

It’s an impressive number that speaks of a consistency that’s certainly benefited the Reds this season as they barrel through injury, illness and just about everything else during their furious postseason push.

While the streak ended at 23 when Ben Lively allowed a two-run homer in the fourth and the game became lopsided after an eighth-inning grand slam, Cincinnati’s 8-2 loss to the Tigers was more about something eventually having to give than it was about anything in the Reds’ bullpen that needed fixing.

  • Games remaining: at NYM (3), vs. MIN (3), vs. PIT (3), at CLE (2), at STL (3)
  • Standings update: The Reds (76-72) have the same record as the D-backs (76-72) and they are both currently trailing San Francisco (75-71) for the third Wild Card spot. The Giants hold the tiebreaker over Cincinnati after winning the season series.

A good bullpen is sort of like the defense in football: If each man does his job, the unit is nearly anonymous. But with the way the Reds relievers have crashed the party this year, it’s pretty hard to ignore what’s going on.

“First, they're good. They’re good at what they do,” manager David Bell said. “But it is more than that. I think it's a culture they have within our team, and it’s very healthy, very supportive and hardworking. They take a lot of pride in not only how they perform, but how they pick each other up. It's just a very fun group to have.”

Cincinnati’s relievers have worked 589 1/3 innings this season, more than any NL team but the Giants. Reds relievers have an NL-leading 49 saves -- tied with the Blue Jays for the most in baseball -- a respectable 44-27 record and a 3.94 ERA and 567 strikeouts, which ranks fifth in the NL.

“They’re dawgs,” Lively said. “They're fired up to go whenever, and everyone's ready, and everyone's ready to compete. It’s awesome playing with them and it's so cool watching them perform.”

The bullpen was called into early action this series for myriad reasons, but Thursday was a planned patchwork day from the mound long before the Reds knew they’d have to use a combined 15 pitchers across their first two wins in Detroit. They gained Lively back from the COVID IL earlier in the day but also lost Tejay Antone to the 15-day IL with right elbow discomfort, so the finale could have easily gotten out of control.

But, like it's done all season, the relief staff did its best with what it had to work with. Lively was touched for a two-run homer in his first game back and former Tiger Buck Farmer allowed a run-scoring single to the first batter he faced, but the Reds’ bullpen managed to avoid the big inning to keep their team in it until Matt Vierling hit a grand slam off Farmer in the eighth to open things up.

Losses like the one in Detroit are so few and far between for the Reds lately that they’re easier to write off as anomalies. But that doesn’t mean they don’t count: Cincinnati entered the day in the final NL Wild Card spot and left town once again on the outside looking in, and everyone on the roster is taking that seriously.

“There's a lot of quiet mouths right now [in the clubhouse], and that's what we need,” Lively said. “It's going to get us fired up, go into New York and turn the page, and let's go. Back to it.”

Detroit starter Reese Olson held Cincinnati hitless until Jake Fraley singled to open the sixth inning. Spencer Steer hit his 21st home run of the season two outs later, and TJ Friedl hit homer No. 14 on an 0-1 pitch in the ninth to account for the Reds’ runs.

“We had a talk after the [7-1 win on Sunday], saying we’ve got to put it on these teams,” said Jonathan India, who had a two-run single in the opener and has boosted both the lineup and the clubhouse since returning from the IL on Sunday. “We're a good team on the road, and we’ve got to keep winning, so we can't let off the pedal now. … We’ve got to keep winning, no matter what it takes.”