The Cincinnati Reds took one on the chin on Monday night, losing to the Chicago Cubs late in a game that featured plenty of both hype and performance for such an early, cold April evening. Brandon Finnegan carried a no-hitter into the 7th inning and Billy Hamilton flashed both great leather in CF and an unexpected dinger, but the bullpen - which figured to be the weakest part of the team on paper to begin the season - collapsed when called upon.
It served to highlight a bit of how the Reds found themselves at 5-1 to begin with, actually. Entering last night's game, the team's ERA with runners in scoring position was an MLB-best 2.60 despite sporting middle of the pack numbers in both K/BB and OPS against in those scenarios. What that meant, essentially, is that they'd had 6 games of solid luck, allowing plenty of baserunners while somehow keeping most of them from scoring. Good throws home to nail runners and a pile of inning-ending double plays had bailed them out, but that wasn't the case at all on Monday. Tony Cingrani and Caleb Cotham couldn't find the strike zone, and Jumbo Diaz saw a meatball crushed for the game-turning dinger instead of a double play.
Often, the ERA gets the headline while the peripherals tell the real story, and to this point in the Reds' season that's been the case with the pitching staff.
As for Finnegan, he shrugged off 5 walks and a pile of loud early outs to carry his no-no bid into the 7th, and it was clear he was leaning on his change-up often. It's something that Bryan Price mentioned back in Spring Training could be the make or break pitch that could keep him as a starter, and in just his second start of the year Finnegan was absolutely using it to his advantage, as FanGraphs' Eno Sarris noticed. Perhaps it's just early season small sample noise, but through his two starts Finnegan is both using his change up more now (24.4%) than he did last year (7.5%), and he's throwing it two full mph faster now (85.4) than he did as a rookie in 2014 (83.4). It could be the change from being a reliever to a starter, it could be a modified approach under new tutelage, or it could be some combination of them both, but so far it's been an effective beginning to his starting campaign.
The other big news from last night was Zack Cozart leaving the game with quad tightness, something that was evident to the coaching staff from the very first PA of the game. Cozy lifted a bloop single over the 2B's head to lead off the game, and he was quickly met at 1B by both Price and the trainers. He stayed in for three more innings before eventually being removed, and MLB.com's Mark Sheldon spoke with him after the game. Cozy sounded like it wasn't anything to be super worried about, and that it's just a part of the healing process from the knee injury he suffered to the same leg last summer. Kick me for even bringing this up, but it seems eerily similar to what Joey Votto went through, and I hope like hell that's not actually the case.
In other news, friend of the blog Chad Dotson has an excellent look at what Eugenio Suarez has done to begin his young career, especially in the context of a pair of other prominent 3Bs that have manned the hot corner for the Reds over time.
After being rained out since the Carter administration, it appears the weather will finally allow the Louisville Bats to play some dang baseball. Seems like Robert Stephenson sure is ready, and hopefully his pitching prospect buddy Cody Reed is, too, since he'll finally get to make his AAA debut.
Finally, The Enquirer's C. Trent Rosecrans caught up with veteran reliever Ross Ohlendorf to talk about his unique, old-timey wind up, and it's a great look into just one of the many quirks that make baseball so dang entertaining.