Middle relief has been a challenge for Reds in '15

Lefty Parra allows three hits to lefty hitters, three runs in pivotal seventh

Middle relief has been a challenge for Reds in '15

CINCINNATI -- One of the Reds' primary objectives this offseason will be finding reliable bullpen help that can hold games together in the middle innings. That has been one of the challenges faced this season.

Cincinnati has lost five straight games, with three losses on the watch of relievers. Thursday's 6-4 defeat to the Mets came when lefty reliever Manny Parra struggled to get left-handed batters out while allowing three runs in the seventh to snap a 3-3 tie.

It was the 30th loss of the season for the Reds' bullpen, which tied the Rockies for the most in the National League. The Rays lead the Majors with 35 bullpen losses.

"One of the biggest differences is with the exception of eight and nine -- [J.J.] Hoover and [Aroldis] Chapman -- the roles are rather non-specific," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "Because we haven't been able to find a mix that works [like] a knockdown seventh-inning guy, it's become a mix-and-match.

"We haven't been quite productive enough to where I can just meter out innings and say, 'You're the seventh inning, you're the eighth inning, you're the ninth inning,' and segue other guys when I don't use Hoover on a particular night. Right now, we just haven't been able to get the group rolling to where the role definition is easy to assign."

Trailing, 3-1, after three innings, the Reds had just tied the game at 3 in the bottom of the sixth. Parra was summoned for the seventh to face a lefty-heavy portion of the Mets' lineup.

Murphy's go-ahead triple

Of the four hits Parra allowed for three runs, three came from lefty hitters Curtis Granderson, Daniel Murphy and Lucas Duda. Murphy hit a two-out tiebreaking RBI triple to right field and Duda launched a long RBI double to the wall in left-center field.

Duda's second RBI double

After being at or near the bottom of the Majors in bullpen ERA during the first half, Reds relievers have climbed up a few notches with a better second half for an overall ERA of 3.92, which is 11th in the NL.

During the last five games, the bullpen has given up 13 earned runs over 15 1/3 innings. Chapman has not seen action since the last win, Saturday in Milwaukee.

Not a coincidence is the fact that the Reds' rotation started a rookie for the 100th time this season in Josh Smith. It also extended the Major League record of 54 straight games with a rookie starter. Several of the starters have been under the cloud of an innings limitation lately, which means more innings to bridge between the starters and Hoover and Chapman. Others have yet to master the art of pitch efficiency. Smith pitched five solid innings vs. the Mets but had 94 pitches.

"There isn't a guy in our rotation, other than [Brandon] Finnegan or [Keyvius] Sampson, where we haven't had a concern about innings consumption," Price said. "It's a lot easier for me now to have a guy go out there and throw four or five innings and say I'm going to pull the plug because we're getting close to his innings threshold. These guys are surpassing their innings from their previous high."

Price did not feel that relievers were wearing out, especially with extra depth from September callups.

"Anybody that's been active all year is probably at the point where they have that September fatigue," he said. "But I'm spreading the wealth. There's not a guy sitting down there for eight to 10 days and not pitching."

Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.