The Cincinnati Reds season got out to a good start as Sonny Gray dominated the Detroit Tigers on Opening Day as the team picked up the win and moved to 1-0. But things took a quick turn as the bullpen imploded multiple times over the next few days and along with some other issues, the Reds lost four straight games. When Sonny Gray returned to the mound he was ready to do his part to put an end to the losing streak and get things going.
“I just knew we needed to come out with a little more fire and a little more energy and a little more give a s**t in this game,” said Gray. “That was my whole thing with tonight, I was just telling the boys we’re coming to play today. Let’s go play a baseball game, let’s go win a baseball game. That was it.”
“We’ve had a couple of tough game, we’ve had a couple of tough things not go our way. I just wanted today to be about ‘we need to put everything else we’ve got going on, whether it’s not having guys, losing close games, whatever it is, it’s irrelevant when we step on the field tonight’ and that was it. “
Things got ignited pretty early in the game, too. After Kris Bryant grounded out to lead off the game, Anthony Rizzo was hit by a pitch. Sonny Gray came back and struck out Javier Baez and Kyle Schwarber to end the inning. And on his way back to the Reds dugout, he had some words with Rizzo. Mark Slaughter of WLWT in Cincinnati caught the interaction after the inning was over.
— Mark Slaughter (@MarkVSlaughter) July 29, 2020
“I think that was just some competitors competing,” Gray said of the back-and-forth. “But yes, I definitely wanted to try and ignite something. I definitely wanted everyone to know that we’re here to play tonight. We’re not gonna sit back and just get our butts kicked. We’re here to play.”
Here to play they were. The Cincinnati bats came through in a big way behind the return to the lineup of Nick Senzel and Mike Moustakas – both of whom homered in the game. Gray was strong, too, allowing just one hit and one walk in 6.2 innings with 11 strikeouts before leaving the game after 92 pitches (63 strikes) and with a 9-0 lead.
“I feel like I probably could’ve finished, but he (manager David Bell) left it open for me there and I gave him the ball. That was something he came out, I gave him the ball – it wasn’t he asked me how I was doing, if I could have kept going – that was one of those decisions, I gave him the ball and turned it over to the bullpen. But he was leaving the option open for me there.”
While some have gotten quite angry over the fact that the Reds have not let their starting pitchers go deeper into games this year, the simple fact is that teams just aren’t allowing it to happen. The amount of time to get back to the season simply wasn’t enough, and the Reds have been far more lenient with how deep their starters are pitching than any other team in baseball. The San Francisco Giants, for example, have played six games this season. Tonight saw Johnny Cueto throw 87 pitches. That was the first time a Giants pitcher topped 70 this season. The Reds have had four of their six starts throw 90+ pitches.
“I feel like DJ (pitching coach Derek Johnson) challenged me one time during this quarantine. We were back home in Nashville and I hadn’t started throwing or anything and he was kind of like ‘I’m not gonna let you just jump right into it, youv’e got to be ready’ – he basically said like, if you don’t get start you’re not going to be ready,” said Gray after the game on Wednesday. “So I took that as a challenge during quarantine and then I tried to get ready. So I started throwing al ittle bit more, I started getting more on a baseball routine, I started committing my time, my energy, and just my time to baseball. I started doing it twice a week, three times a week, four times a week – I just feel like he challenged me and I just wanted to get ready for the season.
I would like to, as we keep going, I do want to work my way into getting deeper – say it’s a 3-0, 4-0, 5-0 game tonight, there’s no way I come out of that game. I think we’re almost there to where the leash should be open to just go out there and throw. But it is also something you have to, it is closely monitored because it was very quick getting to 90, 100 pitches and I feel like I’m almost there to just go.”
Sonny Gray isn’t quite there yet for a “full starters workload”, but he says he’s close. Last night he has given the option to stay in and he handed the ball to the manager. With a 9-0 lead that’s a move that makes sense for both the pitcher and the manager. The bullpen woes continues to be both painful and disastrous, but the Cubs had their own bullpen issues that the Reds took advantage of and the game was never truly in doubt, even if it felt that way given how the season had played out to that point.