CINCINNATI -- No matter which combination of relievers manager Bryan Price has utilized to this point, there seems to be no escaping the quicksand that has become the eighth inning.
In the Reds' 5-1 loss to the Rockies on Monday, which made it six losses in the last seven games, the bullpen gave up four runs in the top of the eighth on a pair of home runs by Trevor Story and Ben Paulsen.
"It's trying to get these guys feeling good about what they're doing," Price said. "It's been a struggle. It's documented, the challenges we've had. I'm sure it's harder for these guys to get together and feel good about where they're going.
"We believe in these guys, that they have the stuff to get big league hitters out. What we have to do is make better pitches, and we've got to give ourselves a chance to jump out and take some leads, and we've got to secure some leads late."
Ross Ohlendorf was one batter away from completing a drama-free eighth inning during a tie game for the second game in a row. Like Sunday's 4-3 loss, he could not secure that elusive third out. Ohlendorf took over to begin the seventh and retired five in a row, with three strikeouts. Following back-to-back strikeouts in the eighth, Story hit a first-pitch fastball for a home run. Following a single up the middle and a walk, Jumbo Diaz took over. Diaz's second pitch, a 1-0 changeup, was blasted by Paulsen for a three-run homer.
Cincinnati's bullpen has a 5.66 ERA this season, second-highest behind Colorado in the National League. Where it gets particularly eye-popping is in the eighth inning, where it's a 13.85 mark -- easily the highest in the Majors -- with 20 earned runs, 19 hits, 11 walks and five home runs. The 29th-ranked club, the Indians, is nearly six runs better.
Diaz has given up all three of his homers in the eighth. Last year, according to Statcast™, his average changeup was 90.2 mph with a spin-rate of 1,534 rpm. Paulsen hit a 92.6-mph changeup with a spin-rate of 1,987 rpm, as the higher spin kept the ball up.
"All I know is [Paulsen] put a good swing on it and barreled it," Price said.
The Reds already sent Keyvius Sampson to Triple-A Louisville on Sunday. The only reliever on the 40-man roster is Stephen Johnson, and he's allowed four earned runs over 3 1/3 innings in two games for Louisville. Non-roster relievers like Layne Somsen, Pedro Villarreal and Dayan Diaz have posted good numbers in a small sample size to date. Some of the answers could come soon when injured members of the rotation return from the disabled list. That could push some current starters into relief roles.
"There is ambiguity to the bullpen mix," Price said. "We have really one certified position, and that's closer with [J.J.] Hoover. Beyond that, with [Caleb] Cotham, [Blake] Wood, Diaz, Ohlendorf, [Tony] Cingrani, it's a mix of trying to figure out what parts of the lineup are they suited to face and put them in the best possible situation to be successful. We haven't found the right mix yet, but we will."