Things could’ve gone one of two ways for starting pitchers Tyler Mahle and Marcus Stroman after disastrous first innings Tuesday, and they took divergent paths.
Mahle allowed three runs and three hits in a 25-pitch top of the first inning, including a two-run homer to Frank Schwindel that landed in the first row of seats beyond the right-field wall. Stroman needed 37 pitches to complete the bottom of the first inning, giving up four singles and two runs.
By the end of the fifth inning, Stroman tapped his chest in celebration as he walked off the mound. Stroman didn’t allow another hit, retiring 14 of his final 16 batters. He recorded five of his last eight outs by strikeout.
Mahle didn’t make it out of the fifth inning in an 11-4 loss at Great American Ball Park in front of a crowd of 14,386.
“I fell behind some guys and then I made some bad pitches,” Mahle said. “You won’t succeed when you’re doing those two things.”
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Mahle surrendered a career-high eight earned runs in four innings, topping his previous career-high of seven from an outing against the Los Angeles Dodgers in April. Mahle yielded nine hits and three walks while striking out six.
It was a matchup between two rebuilding clubs, both with 13 players on the injured list, but the Reds still have some catching up to do to reach the Cubs. The Reds, who have dropped the first two games of the four-game series, were outhit 15-8 during Tuesday’s blowout loss, rested some of their regular starters midway through the game and needed a position player, Matt Reynolds, to pitch in the ninth inning.
“Tonight,” Reds Manager David Bell said, “definitely got away from us.”
Mahle was constantly behind in counts, throwing a first-pitch strike to only 12 of his 25 batters, and he paid the price for it. Schwindel homered on a 3-1 fastball in the first inning, and he added a solo homer in a full count in the fifth inning.
“Falling behind to Schwindel, that wasn’t good,” Mahle said. “I threw a fastball when everyone in the world knew I was throwing one.”
Mahle just never found a rhythm in Tuesday’s start, throwing at least 22 pitches in each of his first three innings. He botched a potential double-play ball in the second inning on a comebacker, throwing the ball into center field for an error, which caused him to face an additional three batters.
Alfonso Rivas, a late addition into the Cubs’ lineup after Yan Gomes was scratched with left oblique tightness, lined a splitter into the right-field corner for a two-run triple in the third inning.
After Schwindel’s homer in the fifth inning, two more batters reached base against Mahle and they both scored with Luis Cessa on the mound.
“You’re going to have nights like that where you can’t find it as far as making the pitches the way you want to, having the velocity that he typically has,” Bell said. “You’re going to go through stages in the season where you’re just a little bit more fatigued or whatever the case. We’re so used to Tyler being so on top of his game. Tonight just wasn’t his night.”
Mahle, the Reds’ Opening Day starter, owns a 6.32 ERA through 10 starts. He put together three solid outings before Tuesday’s clunker.
“It sucks,” Mahle said, “but I can easily have another streak of games over the next couple.”
It was the opposite type of night for Stroman, who overpowered the Reds after nearly failing to pitch out of the first inning. The Reds had him on the ropes after back-to-back RBI singles from Joey Votto and Tyler Stephenson, then Mike Moustakas had a 12-pitch at-bat against him.
Stroman walked two batters in the third inning, but otherwise kept hitters off balance with his slider and cutter.
“You get down to the Moustakas at-bat, great at-bat, and if that ends differently, he might have been a batter or two from having to come out of the game,” Bell said. “Then to bounce back and throw several scoreless innings where we didn’t get a hit. That’s very impressive on his part.”
It was the second time the Reds used a position player to pitch this season. Reynolds pitched in an 18-4 loss to Milwaukee on May 4. The Cubs hadn’t scored more than 10 runs in a game since April 23.