3 takeaways from Mexico: 'pen, power and pride

April 15th, 2019

MONTERREY, Mexico -- The Reds broadened their reach and made the most of their Mexico experience. But they couldn’t get to enjoy a two-game series sweep of the Cardinals after Sunday’s 9-5 loss at Estadio de Beisbol Monterrey.

Here are three takeaways from the game, and the Mexico Series:

Bullpen takes some lumps
Cincinnati’s bullpen came into Sunday with the National League’s second-best ERA at 2.91. Two usually reliable relievers faltered as both Amir Garrett and Jared Hughes gave up home runs during the five-run, nine-batter top of the seventh.

It was a 4-4 game when Garrett took over from Michael Lorenzen after his two scoreless innings, and Matt Carpenter slugged his first pitch for a leadoff home run to left-center field. It was the first run allowed by Garrett in the young season, totaling 6 2/3 innings in eight appearances. He had also retired 14 of his past 16 batters entering the game.

“Amir has been doing such a great job. He’s been pitching really well,” Reds manager David Bell said. “We’ve been using him. He had one hitter today, and we felt good about that. Matt Carpenter is obviously a great hitter. We would do it again with Amir, but Matt won that competition there. That was a huge hit in the game for them.”

Hughes, who gave up four homers all of last season, surrendered his first of 2019. He picked up two outs once Garrett departed, but his 2-1 pitch to Marcell Ozuna was tattooed to deep left field for Ozuna's second homer of the afternoon. The inning kept going as Hughes allowed two singles that sandwiched a walk to load the bases.

“We had Jared ready to come in to face the right-handers throughout their order. It didn’t work out today, but our guys have been pitching really well -- our starters and our relievers,” Bell said.

One reliever who has been struggling, Zach Duke, walked Tyler O’Neill to force in a run and then allowed pinch-hitter Jose Martinez’s two-run single. The runs were charged to Hughes, but Duke has a 8.31 ERA in his eight appearances in 2019.

Winker’s opposite-field power
Reds left fielder Jesse Winker has got the touch. He’s got the (opposite-field) power. On the heels of Lorenzen’s RBI double in the bottom of the fifth inning, it was Winker’s three-run home run off Miles Mikolas that made it a 4-4 game.

On a first-pitch curveball from Mikolas, Winker lifted an opposite field drive that landed in the left-field bullpen. With a five-game hitting streak, he has homers in four of the games – all were hit to the opposite field and most of them came in clutch moments.

Winker’s eighth-inning solo homer on Wednesday vs. the Marlins was the tiebreaker in a 2-1 Reds win. On Saturday against Cardinals starter Adam Wainwright, Winker notched Cincinnati’s first hit when his solo long ball made it a 1-1 game and turned the tide toward a 5-2 win.

“Power to all fields is the goal,” Winker said. “I feel like it’s one of those things, it’s just kind of a reaction. I’m trying to stay inside the ball and drive it into the air, really. If it gets up and gets out to left field, perfect. The swing today, I was just trying to hit a fly ball with something behind it. It was a curveball out over the plate. I was able to drive it to left. I know all of them have went in that general direction, but it’s just been kind of where the pitch is at.”

Winker opened the season 1-for-24 until he went deep on Tuesday and is 7-for-18 (.389) since. He was one of the hottest rookie hitters in baseball last season until right shoulder surgery in July prematurely finished his year.

“We know he can hit. He’s still a young player who is continually getting better,” Bell said. “We’re trying not to overreact like we’ve talked about to any slow starts or anything like that because we believe in what they’ve done and what they’re going to do. I think that’s really the key. He never accepted it and didn’t like that. At the same time, he just kept working through it and trusting he would get out of it.”

Monterrey memories
The international trip to Mexico brought goodwill and the Major League Baseball experience back to a country that loves the sport. It also was a thrill for the players, especially those from Latin America.

“It brings back a lot of memories,” said Cuban reliever Raisel Iglesias, who got the save in Saturday’s win. “I feel as if I were pitching again in Cuba, where fans yell and get really involved. It feels the same here. … It gives me pride to come back to Latin America, to have been fortunate enough to pitch the first game and have things come out all right.”

Reds right fielder Yasiel Puig, who hit his first home run as a member of the Reds with a first-pitch shot to left-center field in the eighth inning against Mexico native Giovanny Gallegos, found the experience to be what he had hoped for.

“I love the way Latin players play and [fans] cheer your name and yell your name and support all their teammates on both sides,” Puig said. “When you get to two strikes, people are yelling out, ‘Strike him out, strike him out.’ I love to hear voices in Spanish across the stadium. That’s super cool.”