Reds try to match up for success
By LONNIE WHEELER / Scripps Howard News Service
CINCINNATI -- In the slanting corridor here that leads from their clubhouse to their dugout, the Reds have posted three markers commemorating that distant, sorely missed month in which the current season started. One's for scoring a club-record number of runs in April, another's for the most April RBIs, and the third notes that Cincinnati's 17 April victories were without precedent in the franchise's lengthy history.
Obviously, there's a correlation between the run-making and the win-making. There is a direct connection, as well, between the shortage of both in the Reds' disappointing month of May.
And yet, by all that we had learned and been led to believe, it wasn't supposed to happen this way. Five straight years of faltering had made it clear that the solution lay in what the Reds desperately lacked. Incontrovertibly, pitching and winning were one and the same.
On that apparently unassailable score, we consult Aaron Harang, who pitched eight sterling innings of one-run baseball Sunday and lost to the Detroit Tigers. "It's a very strange game," Harang confirmed Monday. "It can go one way one day and the next day be completely the opposite. That's what makes the game so humbling."
And so inscrutable.
In May, the Reds have pitched the way their manager, general manager and most ardent admirers would have them. Harang has asserted his large self. Bronson Arroyo has taken the league lead in earned run average. Elizardo Ramirez has earned a place in the rotation. Todd Coffey has been a blessing to the bullpen.
Already, Cincinnati's starters have topped all of 2005 in shutouts and complete games. They've brought down their ERA by more than a full run. In their 10 games prior to Monday night's, the Reds' starting pitchers had four times allowed one run or fewer, six times three or fewer.
The club was 3-7 in those games.
Last year, Cincinnati was 46-23 when its designated pitcher produced a quality start. Understandably, quality starts has become a statistic around which the outs-challenged organization is trying to build. To their delight, the Reds had turned in four of them over the nine games leading up to Monday's. To their chagrin and bewilderment, they had lost all four. They had, in fact, lost six of their last eight quality starts.
Bottom line: They've pitched well lately, and stunk. Explain that one, Casey Stengel.
Perhaps it has to do with a false assumption. Given Cincinnati's lineup and recent past _ the Reds led the National League in scoring last year, when they finished 27 games out of first place _ it was taken for granted that the runs would continue to boogie across. And in April, they did.
In the 20 games of May, however, the local men have been shut out three times, four times held to a single run, and half the time to three or fewer. Collectively, they've slumped like a wise guy in the back of the class.
"I look at it as the glass half-full," said GM Wayne Krivsky. "If we keep pitching like this, we're going to win a lot of games. Somebody's going to pay."
That would be the Milwaukee Brewers, Monday night, when Arroyo's very quality start was backed up by 15 therapeutic runs. Like Krivsky, Jerry Narron, the Reds manager, had been calmly anticipating such an evening. The recent swoon has left him less concerned with macho hitting than the stranding of runners in scoring position (case in point, Detroit) and unexacting glove work (case in point, Detroit).
"Situational baseball," the skipper observed, "comes down to hitting the ball to certain parts of the field, especially with less than two strikes." That said, "The only concern I have, really, is making the routine play defensively."
Too veteran to be taken in by a couple lackluster weeks, Narron is probably right in his sparing critique. Monday night, for instance, his flagging batsmen encountered Milwaukee's David Bush, who, precisely a month before, had saddled the Reds with their first shutout of the season. In the rematch, Cincinnati generated five runs within the first five batters, two of them _ Junior Griffey and Austin Kearns _ summarily homering.
The Reds are 20-10 when they homer, 6-9 when they don't.
And 7-3 now when Arroyo starts. The same with Harang.
See, if they were to hit and pitch at the same time...