Vladimir Gutierrez sat down for his postgame press conference, waved and said, “Hello” to reporters on the Zoom call before he flashed an enormous grin.
It was the type of performance Cincinnati needed against National League Central-leading Milwaukee, and Gutierrez’s outing played as big a part of the win as anything else. In six innings of work, the young hurler threw a career-high 110 pitches, tossed six strikeouts and walked only two batters.
“You have to start with Vladdy and what he did all the way to the end,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He got stronger and just kept going, kept pitching, and that was the key.”
It was the second time in just six days that Gutierrez matched up with the Brewers. His last time out against them Wednesday, Gutierrez lasted a career-high seven innings and picked up the second win of his young career. On Monday, Gutierrez didn’t last as long, but he was arguably more dominant, recording 14 whiffs on 50 swings; his 28 percent whiff rate exceeded the 20.2 mark he’d achieved over his first three career starts.
“Whatever I worked on last time against the Brewers, I wanted to match that,” Gutierrez said through team translator Jorge Merlos. “Obviously, I went seven innings last time, but I had the same mentality going into this start as well. I had to prepare myself well in the bullpen before the game started and really try to get the same type of pitches that I worked on in my previous start to help me out in this start. I’m glad that everything worked out well.”
It looked as though the issues plenty of young pitchers have when facing a lineup for the second time would affect Gutierrez. He gave up a solo shot in the first inning to Brewers first baseman Daniel Vogelbach that tied the score at 1, followed by a single from Christian Yelich. In the second, Milwaukee cut the Reds’ lead to two when opposing pitcher Eric Lauer hit a sacrifice fly that drove in Jace Peterson.
The start mirrored the beginning of Gutierrez's last outing, where he hit a batter to open the game, before a balk gave the Brewers a 1-0 lead in the first.
Reds right fielder Nick Castellanos then gave Gutierrez a pep talk to calm him down. This time around, Gutierrez credited catcher Tyler Stephenson -- and everyone else, really -- with helping him get through the early trouble.
“It was Stephenson who was telling me, ‘Let’s go. Let’s go. Let’s get back in a rhythm. Everything that you worked on in previous starts really worked,’” Gutierrez said. “Not just Stephenson, but everyone in the dugout was really helping me out, cheering me on and letting me know that I had it today.”
Once Gutierrez settled in, Milwaukee’s day was seemingly over.
Gutierrez retired 10 straight batters from the last out of the second through the fifth, and Yelich’s walk was the only other baserunner allowed before he struck out Brewers shortstop Willy Adames to end the sixth.
It seemed like just about every pitch in his repertoire was working, too. On the night, Gutierrez's four-seamer picked up a 24 percent whiff rate, up from 13.3 percent coming in. He started 13 different batters off with a breaking ball; 10 of those were for strikes.
“That’s two games in a row that he’s made it real tough on us,” Vogelbach said. “He has a really good fastball, and he throws a curveball for a strike when he wants to. He’s just a guy in a groove right now who’s doing what he wants on the mound.
“You have to give credit where credit’s due. He’s thrown the ball well twice against us."
Gutierrez, 25, is the club’s No. 12 overall prospect per MLB Pipeline, but he’s been called upon to help Cincinnati maneuver through injuries to starters Sonny Gray and Jeff Hoffman. Now 3-1 with a 2.74 ERA in four starts, Gutierrez has more than delivered.
“He's still a young pitcher, but to step in and handle situations like he is is the most impressive thing,” Bell said. “[Gutierrez] just has really stepped in and competed and hasn't backed down.”