CINCINNATI — In April, the Cincinnati Reds signed right-hander Hunter Greene long-term, expecting him to be the anchor of the organization’s pitching staff for the next six years. With nine games remaining in the 2023 season, Greene faces his biggest chance so far to prove that he is that guy.
The Reds lost 7-0 to the Minnesota Twins on Tuesday at Great American Ball Park, which, coupled with Miami’s victory, pushed the Reds out of the final playoff spot even before the Chicago Cubs’ game even began. Greene is lined up next on Wednesday, with his team needing him to be the stopper they hope he can be.
“He’s looking forward to being on the mound; we’re looking forward to having him out there,” Reds manager David Bell said following Tuesday’s loss. “He’s in a great spot as far as where he is with his pitching.”
Wednesday afternoon’s game against the Twins is the Reds’ last this season against a team with a winning record, but they are just .500 against two of the remaining teams left on their schedule, the Guardians and Cardinals, while they are just 4-6 this season against the Pirates, who come to Great American Ball Park for three games starting Friday.
The 24-year-old Greene has 43 career starts on his resume, making him by far the most experienced starter left in the Reds’ four-man rotation. He missed much of this season with hip issues before returning in August.
The Reds have won each of Greene’s last three starts, but a bout with COVID-19 put him on the sideline for 10 days before returning to the beleaguered Reds rotation.
Tuesday was the 55th game this season for the Reds started by a rookie, as Fernando Cruz allowed a run in 1.2 innings as the team’s opener Tuesday.
The Reds were afforded a bullpen day by rookie Connor Phillips’ seven-inning gem on Monday against Minnesota, coupled with a day off on Thursday to give rest to the club’s bullpen.
Cruz was followed Tuesday by Buck Farmer, Daniel Duarte and Alex Young. Those four covered 3.1 innings and allowed a pair of runs before Ben Lively, who has been in the team’s rotation at one point this season, came in to cover the bulk of the innings.
Lively allowed five runs on seven hits over four innings, striking out four and walking four.
The Reds are inching closer to full strength, with the hope of adding infielder Matt McLain (right oblique strain), outfielder Harrison Bader (right groin strain) and reliever Tejay Antone (right elbow discomfort) for the final games of the season.
For that to matter, the team needs to continue to win. The Reds have won their last two series, but with where they are in the standings — six teams within 5.5 games of each other when Tuesday’s game ended, all vying for three spots — series sweeps are crucial.
Tuesday’s game was scheduled to be a bullpen game with Lively taking up most of the innings. While Twins starter Kenta Maeda struck out eight in his five innings and Twins pitchers struck out a total of 14 Reds batters, it was center fielder Willi Castro who was able to turn the game with his glove.
In the fourth, Castro made a sliding catch with two outs to take away a pair of game-tying RBI from Tyler Stephenson. After Castro hit a two-run homer in the top of the seventh to give the Twins a 6-0 lead, he robbed Stephenson of a two-run homer in the bottom of the inning.
“We weren’t able to score runs, that makes it really tough,” Bell said. “We were in a situation tonight where a lot of guys were going to pitch and were going to pitch some of those innings, but when you’re not scoring, it puts a lot of pressure on your pitching. We’re a team. There’s plenty of nights where your offense comes through. But tonight the story wasn’t so much the pitching, it’s just that we weren’t able to score.”
The Reds’ remaining schedule will afford the Reds the ability to go with a four-man rotation for the rest of the season, with Greene leading the way, followed by lefty Brandon Williamson and Andrew Abbott. Right-hander Connor Phillips, who made his third career start and earned his first win Monday, is likely the team’s final starter. Williamson and Abbott, both older than Greene, have combined for 40 starts so far this season.
Abbott, 24, leads Reds starters with a 3.68 ERA, but has made it through six innings in just one of his last nine starts. The Reds are 6-3 over that span, but he’s 2-3 with a 6.37 ERA. He lasted just 3.2 innings in his last start, Sunday in New York, allowing a pair of runs and throwing 91 pitches to record his 11 outs.
Williamson, slated to start the team’s series opener against the Pirates on Friday, is also coming off of a bout with COVID. He’s made two starts since coming off the COVID-19 IL, going four innings both times, allowing a total of eight earned runs in the two starts.
Phillips, 22, wowed in his start Monday, allowing a pair of solo homers in his seven innings against the Twins in a Reds victory and earning another start.
“I mean, look at where we are,” Bell said. “Yes, tonight aside. We’re playing meaningful games on Sept. (20). We have a week-plus. If you can’t turn the page now and look forward to tomorrow and play another big game … we have all of that to look forward to for the next week. Not to make light of tonight, because they’re all extremely important, but for the games to mean this much, it’s the best.”
(Photo: Katie Stratman / USA TODAY)