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Mahle proves his value over 6 shutout innings

@JakeCrouseMLB
April 4, 2019

PITTSBURGH -- With the moves the Reds made this offseason to build up their rotation, the focus was on the newcomers -- Sonny Gray, Tanner Roark and Alex Wood -- and how they’d fare. However, the most impressive starters in the early going have been the carryovers from last season,

PITTSBURGH -- With the moves the Reds made this offseason to build up their rotation, the focus was on the newcomers -- Sonny Gray, Tanner Roark and Alex Wood -- and how they’d fare.

However, the most impressive starters in the early going have been the carryovers from last season, and Tyler Mahle was no exception Thursday night in a 2-0 loss at PNC Park.

Mahle, who was expected in spring camp to break as a Triple-A addition, earned the team’s fifth starter spot after Wood was sidelined with a back injury late in Spring Training. Mahle’s schedule has been far from normal; he went about a week without facing live batters before his season debut, though he tossed a couple of bullpen sessions to stay loose.

After all that, he started his year with a stellar outing against the Pirates: six shutout innings with no walks and five strikeouts.

“He had a few extra days rest, and to his credit, he stayed ready,” manager David Bell said. “We even pushed him back an extra day further, and he really came out and pitched great. He was aggressive, he threw strikes and went right after them.”

Through three innings, Mahle dominated with his four-seam fastball; of his 39 pitches in that span, he threw the pitch 31 times and allowed just one hit with three strikeouts. He slowly ramped up his use of his breaking pitches and a split-finger changeup later in his start to continued success, and he finished the night allowing just five hits, only one of which came on the two secondary offerings.

“I think it gives me a lot of confidence, seeing how the pitches work, how my curve and splitter worked, because they’re new,” Mahle said.

Mahle is just one of three returning starters for Cincinnati, and all three have been lights out in the first games of the season. Over a combined 23 2/3 innings, the trio has posted a 1.14 ERA with 30 strikeouts. And even though Gray and Roark were unable to get through five innings in their respective starts, Bell still sees positives in what they were able to accomplish in their debuts.

“They’ve done a great job to keep us in games,” he said. “We’ve had a couple of innings [of trouble] with our starters, but they’ve just continued to compete and keep us in games.”

Though Mahle showed no signs of problems heading into the seventh inning, the offense continued to lack run production. So after Tucker Barnhart reached base to lead off the inning, Bell decided to pull Mahle and bat Derek Dietrich in his place with one out, and he flied out to left field.

“Probably in any scenario I would have done that,” Bell said, “but especially when we’re struggling to score runs, as long as there was a runner on base, Derek was going to hit.”

The Pirates took the lead in the bottom of the inning on an RBI fielder’s choice by Kevin Newman, then struck for another run on a Josh Bell RBI single in the eighth.

The Reds offense was blanked for the third time in six games Thursday night, though two key cogs in the lineup broke their respective skids to open the year.

Jesse Winker ended his 0-for-15 drought with a single in the first inning -- even signalling to the dugout to retrieve the ball -- and Scott Schebler doubled with two outs in the sixth after not recording a hit in his first 18 at-bats.

“It’s nice to get it out of the way,” Schebler said, “but it’s nice to win, too. It’s been a frustrating six games so far.”

The Reds' bats have not been able to pick up the slack their pitchers have given them through most of the first six games. The team is ranked last in the Majors in runs scored (11), hits (31) and average (.164).

“We have all the confidence in the world that we will get going,” Schebler said. “It’s just, I think it’s frustrating to keep wasting good outings. That’s the most frustrating part.”

Mahle started the new season on a high note, tossing six scoreless innings Friday against the Pirates. He felt out the breaking ball and split-changeup he’s added to his mix as well, and he located his four-seamer with ease.

Jake Crouse is a reporter/editor for MLB.com based in Pittsburgh. Follow him on Twitter @JakeCrouseMLB.