Control issues contribute to troubles vs. Cubs

Control issues contribute to troubles vs. Cubs

CHICAGO -- After nine games, Reds pitchers are second in the Majors in walks allowed, and their relievers are second in total pitches thrown. Many of those walks and high pitch counts really accumulated during the three games vs. the Cubs.

The result was being swept after Cincinnati was handed an 8-1 defeat by the Cubs on Thursday. Not only did Chicago score 22 runs in the three games, Cubs hitters were walked 22 times.

"They always go hand-in-hand," manager Bryan Price said. "It wasn't like we got [knocked around] in the series. We didn't throw the ball over the plate. The game is predicated on throwing strikes."

The warm feeling of the 5-1 start to the season has cooled to a 5-4 record after the series at chilly Wrigley Field. The six-game road trip now heads to another tough environment, with three games in St. Louis.

Even as he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning on Monday, Reds starter Brandon Finnegan had five of the seven walks allowed in the game. The staff issued 10 walks in Wednesday's loss and five more on Thursday.

"This was a series where we didn't throw the ball over the plate," Price said. "So far this season, we're averaging about 5 1/2, 6 walks per nine innings. And that doesn't work. We know that and the pitchers know that. They don't need a constant reminder. But until we throw the ball over the plate, it's going to be hard to win the close games against the better clubs."

The Reds have a young fleet of starters and relievers, but trouble found their two veterans. Starter Alfredo Simon's outing on Wednesday lasted two-thirds of an inning; he issued three walks and gave up five runs.

On Thursday, closer J.J. Hoover entered with a three-run deficit and left with his team trailing by eight. Hoover got his first batter out before issuing back-to-back walks and a bloop single by Miguel Montero and a broken-bat RBI single to Addison Russell. His bases-loaded walk to Matt Szczur forced home a run.

"The two walks to [Kris] Bryant and [Jorge] Soler, I thought I made some really good pitches that I get swings at 99 percent of the time, and they were just able to lay off and work the count on me," Hoover said.

After outscoring opponents, 31-18, in their first six games, the Reds were outscored by the Cubs, 22-6, in this series.

"The pitching, we know it's going to be a challenge with a group of young guys and trying to get healthy. But the offense is going to be fine, it's the least of my concerns," Price said. "My concerns are that we compete in the strike zone and that we're competitive as a pitching staff with control. We have to control the zone. We can say whatever we want about the guys that are on the DL, but if we have 12 Major League pitchers, they should be 12 guys that know how to control the strike zone."

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.