LOS ANGELES — The Dodgers are one of the best teams in baseball for a reason. Between ace Walker Buehler, 2020 Rookie of the Year vote-getter Tony Gonsolin and 20-game winner Julio Urías, the Reds had their work cut out for them in the first three games of this weekend’s series at Dodger Stadium.
It turns out things didn’t get any easier Sunday in a 9-1 loss, as Cincinnati mustered only one hit in six innings against Los Angeles lefty Andrew Heaney.
“Just continue to work and know that it’s going to turn around,” manager David Bell said. “All of them have done it before.”
Cincinnati’s numbers to begin the year are sunny in only one respect — stare at them for too long and they’ll hurt your eyes. A 4-for-30 team effort on Sunday only worsened an offense that entered with the lowest OPS and second-lowest batting average in the Majors.
In 2021, the Reds boasted one of the most formidable lineups in the league. Part of their struggles certainly can be attributed to the absences of Nick Castellanos, Jesse Winker and Eugenio Suárez, all of whom departed in the offseason. But Cincinnati’s veteran bats started the season in a slumber and have yet to rise — even as the alarm clock rings.
“Keep battling, and it’ll break through at some point,” Bell said.
Right fielder Aristides Aquino, once the talk of the league during his 2019 rookie season, struck out four times to drop his average to .074. New signee Tommy Pham, once a premium bat with the Cardinals and Rays, went 0-for-3, putting his season line at 1-for-26.
“My start has been awful, and I wish I could’ve done better because I’ve been in some situations where I could’ve really helped the team,” Pham said in the clubhouse on Saturday. “But you just move on, and you learn from it.”
Signs of frustration are bubbling, even as Pham and Bell have remained optimistic that the floodgates will open.
After popping out in the seventh inning, third baseman Mike Moustakas tossed his bat away towards the dugout, the wood helicoptering through the air. Moustakas trudged back down the dugout steps, carrying an OPS of .254 to start the year.
“When guys really care like our guys do, of course you do try a little bit too hard,” Bell said. “In the end, that’s what gets you through it, but at the time it can make things a little more difficult.”
Even stalwart Joey Votto, who hit 36 homers in 2021, looks slightly off at the dish. The first baseman went 0-for-3 on Sunday, whiffing three times against a dominant Heaney.
The Reds finally got one on the scoreboard in the eighth inning with a Tyler Naquin RBI single off Dodgers reliever Justin Bruihl. But it was much too little, too late — both in this game and in a series where Cincinnati plated a total of seven runs.
Early on, Tyler Mahle wore a sub-1.00 ERA on his head like a crown. Cooking up a tantalizing three-pitch concoction of four-seams, splitters and cutters, Mahle sent Trea Turner, Freddie Freeman, and Max Muncy grasping for straws. Through three innings, he’d allowed just one hit.
“It was three of the best innings he’s pitched,” Bell said.
But life comes at you fast, and the crown fell quickly in the fourth. Freeman singled. Muncy, Will Smith and Chris Taylor doubled. Just two outs and seven runs later, Mahle walked off the mound, his ERA having ballooned to 5.68.
“I kept throwing those pitches, and they just weren’t competitive,” a quiet Mahle said after the game.
Bell had high praise for Mahle on Saturday, saying the Reds starter had made improvements to his cutter and slider and boasted a “special” fastball.
“He’s growing into one of the best pitchers in the game,” Bell said.
Through three innings, at least, Mahle certainly looked the part.