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Gray returns (8 K), says Reds will be 'all right'

@m_sheldon
September 22, 2020

CINCINNATI -- As the Reds have surged their way into the playoff picture, a popular notion is that their front three of the rotation could be as tough as any in the National League postseason bracket … if they could make it. That uncertainty of “if” remained Tuesday as Milwaukee

CINCINNATI -- As the Reds have surged their way into the playoff picture, a popular notion is that their front three of the rotation could be as tough as any in the National League postseason bracket … if they could make it.

That uncertainty of “if” remained Tuesday as Milwaukee cooled off Cincinnati for a 3-2 loss at Great American Ball Park to put the Reds back to a 28-28 record. But if good news could be had, it’s that Sonny Gray appeared to be back to form after two bad starts, an injury and a 12-day layoff. Gray would be a rightful member of a formidable playoff starting trio that also includes Trevor Bauer and Luis Castillo -- once again, if they can get in.

Box score

“He looked great, he really did. He looked healthy, too,” Reds manager David Bell said. “From here, we know we have him back moving forward. That’s really important to our team. He’s obviously one of the best.”

The Brewers (27-27) tied the Reds in the NL Central and NL Wild Card races, but Cincinnati holds a 5-4 lead in the season-series tiebreaker. That makes Wednesday’s rubber game even more important when Bauer takes the mound on three days’ rest.

Gray gave the Reds 80 pitches over five innings and allowed one run on two hits, with one walk and eight strikeouts in his first start since Sept. 10. He missed time with a mid-back strain near his right shoulder.

There was no noticeable rust for Gray, who retired 14 of his first 16 batters over his first 4 2/3 innings. Nick Castellanos' two-run homer to center field in the first inning against Brett Anderson gave him a 2-0 lead to work with.

“I was very happy to be out there. Talking to Trevor a little bit and I was like, ‘It was nice to be out there and just focusing on getting guys out,' and not focusing on like, ‘How's this going to feel when you lift your leg?’” Gray said. “Personally, I feel very good moving forward. Unfortunately, I wish we could have come out on top in this particular game.”

Gray felt good in the bullpen and knew things were working well when he recorded first-inning strikeouts of Jace Peterson on a curveball and Ryan Braun with a slider.

“I went fastball, middle in, fastball up and in, and I got the swing that I get [from Peterson],” Gray explained. “I think it was 94 [mph] and it was riding up. He kind of swung and kind of fouled it back. You get the swing that you're looking for in that situation. Then you just throw a strike curveball and you get a swing and miss. Then you're kind of like, ‘Ah, it’s there.’ That's kind of in a perfect world for me: It's strike one heater, strike two heater, curveball swinging and miss. See ya.

“My stuff is good. I feel good. Now let's just focus on dominating hitters and getting back to executing pitches, rather than like focusing on yourself.”

Milwaukee cut the lead in half when Tyrone Taylor hit a 2-1 Gray pitch for a solo homer to center field.

Tejay Antone, the rookie swing man who had a 1.17 ERA in seven previous relief appearances and a 2.56 ERA in 11 games overall, cruised through the sixth inning with two strikeouts and a popup. It was a different story in the seventh when the Brewers opened with two hits, including Jedd Gyorko’s double, which put runners on second and third. Orlando Arcia tied the game with a sacrifice fly to deep center field.

Eric Sogard put the Brewers ahead with an RBI double to the left-field corner. For only the second time in the last 10 games, the Reds took a defeat.

“Just missed pitches,” Antone said. “Also, probably the wrong pitch in that situation, beating them with spin, pretty badly, too. I wanted to throw a fastball and blow it by them. They hadn’t seen it yet. Just missed execution in terms of true location, where I was trying to go. It wasn’t a terrible miss, but it just wasn’t quite where I needed it.”

Antone noted appreciation for Reds teammates that told him not to worry about the loss.

“Tejay is great. Tejay has done great for us,” Gray said. “He’s going to continue to do great for us. There is no doubt about it in my mind. It’s just one of those games that unraveled for us in one inning and we came up a little bit short, but we’ll be better from it.”

As he hopped off the chair to leave the Reds’ Zoom room for the evening and go home, Gray had one more thing to add.

“We’ll be all right. We’ll be all right,” Gray said.

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook.