The Indians started the first round of the 2012 Ohio Cup series off on the wrong foot. Johnny Cueto kept the Tribe’s bats at bay and the Reds lit up the Bullpen Mafia as Cincinnati took the opener at Great American Ballpark Tuesday night, 7-1. The loss drops Cleveland’s record to 32-28 and knocks them to 1.5 games behind the first-place White Sox in the AL Central.
At first it looked like things would go the Indians’ way. Shin-Soo Choo led off the top of the first by lacing Cueto’s fifth pitch of the game to left field for a double. He advanced to third on Asdrubal Cabrera‘s groundout before the ever-clutch Jason Kipnis brought him home with an RBI single to give the Tribe a quick 1-0 lead.
The Reds finally responded in the bottom of the third. Cueto reached with a leadoff single and moved to second on Jeanmar Gomez‘ wild pitch before a one-out base hit from Wilson Valdez put runners at the corners. With Joey Votto batting, Carlos Santana tried to pick Valdez off at first base but the throw went wild and Cueto came home to tie the game.
Cincinnati struck again in the bottom of the fifth. Chris Heisey led off with a single and swiped second as Valdez struck out. Gomez intentionally walked Votto before allowing a base hit to Brandon Phillips. With the bases loaded and one out, Jay Bruce hit the first pitch he saw to center field for a sacrifice fly that scored Heisey and put the Reds up 2-1. That was the only other run they would get off of Gomez.
Unfortunately, the bullpen couldn’t stop the bleeding. Joe Smith pitched a perfect sixth but gave up a base hit to Valdez to open the seventh. Tony Sipp came in from the bullpen, and three pitches later Votto smacked a hanging slider into the left field stands. The scoring continued in the eighth as a poorly attributed throwing error by Choo—he was trying to throw out Ryan Ludwick at third base on Ryan Hanigan‘s single and Lonnie Chisenhall misplayed it—led to three Cincinnati runs. Meanwhile the Indians couldn’t figure out Johnny Cueto and the Reds breezed to a 7-1 victory.
The Good: No one in the lineup had a multi-hit game, but Michael Brantley went 1-for-4 to increase his hitting streak to an impressive 19 games. And while Gomez didn’t have his best stuff on the mound—he struck out only two batters, lasted just five innings, and walked or beaned five Reds hitters—he allowed only one earned against a potent lineup in a bandbox of a stadium.
The Bad: The Indians would have lost either way, but the fact remains that the normally strong Indians bullpen give up five runs in the final two innings. Joe Smith and Jeremy Accardo have generally been pretty good this year and Tony Sipp recovered from the Votto home run to strike out both Jay Bruce and Todd Frazier, but there’s definitely a disconnect between the dominant back end of the bullpen and the struggles we’ve seen from the mop-up guys and the middle relief corps.
As for the offense…well, there’s not a whole lot to say. Cueto is a very good pitcher and he was clearly on his game Tuesday night, but scoring one run in a hitter’s park like GABP is always disheartening. It’s perhaps telling that it took Cueto only 122 pitches to get through nine innings and he did not allow a single walk against the normally patient Tribe lineup. And he’s right-handed, so it’s not as though that was a factor.
The “Huh?”: Obviously Manny Acta can’t use his best relievers all the time, but even before he gave up the home run it was curious that he called on Sipp in the seventh inning. It wasn’t a high-enough leverage situation for Vinnie Pestano and Acta obviously wanted a lefty to face Joey Votto. But given how Sipp has struggled this year—even before his rough outing Tuesday, he entered the game with a 6.53 ERA—why go to him in a one-run game instead of Nick Hagadone, who has already shown that he can succeed in a big spot?
Interesting Tidbit: Tuesday was the first time Cueto had struck out more than five batters in a game without allowing a walk since August 27, 2010.