Even if Thursday’s rains delayed their opener by a day behind most other Major League Baseball clubs, the Cincinnati Reds began like most everyone else — full of hope and optimism and the promise this year will be different.
“I like our lineup. I like our young pitching,” Reds Manager Bryan Price was telling the media on Friday before his team took the field. “And I think we’re going to be OK.”
Maybe just not right away, as the Washington Nationals proved with a 2-0 win over Cincinnati on Friday.
After all, the powers-that-be in the league scheduling office apparently decided to throw the still-rebuilding Reds right into the fire, serving up a five-game homestand with first the NL East champion Washington Nationals and then the NL Central champion Chicago Cubs.
That meant the Reds had to face Nationals ace and three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, who was true to form, allowing five hits and no runs with 10 strikeouts over six innings.
“He was good,” said Price of Scherzer afterward. “He’s usually good. However, we had some opportunities.”
Not many. Scooter Gennett went 3-for-3 against Scherzer on the way to a four-hit day. But he was only Red to reach third base against the Washington pitcher, who was quite the starter to open against.
But then from a strength-of-schedule situation, it’s a stacked early deck, especially for a young team that has lost 94 or more games each of the last three seasons.
“You have teams that are coming off really good years, and certainly the Nationals and and the Cubs, their expectations are extremely high,” said Price in his pregame chat. “It also gives us an opportunity to face really good competition right out of the gate. I don’t want to say that’s a great thing, because you want to get off to a really good start. But there’s nobody here saying they’re going to run through us.”
And the Nationals didn’t. The Reds had Homer Bailey to thank for that. Finally healthy after Tommy John surgery, the right-handed starter threw strong six innings, allowing just four hits and a run. He looked like the old Homer. The old, good Homer.
“If this is a sign of things to come, then this was a heck of a good first game,” Price said.
Bailey wasn’t happy with allowing three walks, or the loss.
“I think I’ll be more satisfied when we pull out a win from that one,” he said. “At the end of the day, you can look at you threw well, it’s still an L and that’s what’s most important.”
Saturday, facing the Nationals’ Stephen Strasburg, the Reds send their best young pitching prospect to the mound in Luis Castillo, the 25-year-old with dynamite stuff who fashioned a 3.12 ERA over 15 starts last season.
“It’s no different than any other young guy,” said Price when asked what he wants to see from Castillo in 2018. “However, not a lot of starting pitchers have that type of stuff, a three-pitch mix that is really good. And he’s comfortable in competition. And he does a lot of things that put our team in a good position to win. I’d like to see that continue.”
Starting the season with back-to-back strong outings from the starting pitchers would be huge. The Reds used 16 different starters in 2017. Their combined ERA of 5.17 was worst in the National League. Getting six strong innings from the 31-year-old Bailey, finally healthy, was a step in the right direction.
“The more that our starting pitching can absorb as far as innings go, the better off our bullpen is served, the better off our ability to match up with the guys we want in the game later in the games we have a chance to win,” Price said. “That’s predicated on the ability of our starters to eat up some innings on the front end of that game through the middle innings.”
The Reds did not get a win Friday, but they did get that.
Nationals at Reds
2:10 p.m. Saturday (Fox Sports Ohio, WLXG-AM 1300)