SAN DIEGO - Homer Bailey isn't the sentimental type, which didn't change during Sunday's long-awaited 2016 debut. But the Reds veteran starting pitcher certainly appreciated what it meant to return from Tommy John surgery on his elbow and 15 months of rehabilitation.
Bailey earned the win with his solid performance in Cincinnati's 3-2 victory over the Padres. He threw 5 2/3 innings, allowing two earned runs, four hits, three walks and had six strikeouts while throwing 89 pitches.
"It was great to be back out with your teammates when you've been watching them for about a year-and-a-half and wanting to be out there. To see those guys, I know how they've always had my back," Bailey said after his first big league start since April 23, 2015.
Bailey's first inning wasn't a clean one with three hits, but none were very hard contact - two groundballs and a soft liner. Following Jabari Blash's two-out single in the first, Bailey essentially had his way with San Diego while retiring the next 14 batters in a row.
"For the next four innings, he was really locked in," Reds manager Bryan Price said.
That included a nine-pitch third inning and striking out the side in the fourth. On numerous occasions during the day, including two of the strikeout pitches in the fourth, Bailey topped out at 95 mph.
"He was sharper, maybe, than I thought he would be," Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart said. "When Homer's elevating and getting swings-and-misses on fastballs up, he's at his best. It just opens up his split and his breaking balls even more. We didn't do it there early because we wanted to get into the flow of the game, but as the game progressed we started to elevate some more and it worked out."
Bailey also showed some skills in the field, nimbly covering first base for a groundout to get the speedy Travis Jankowski in the third inning, and covering home plate and tagging out Alexi Amarista after a pitch got away from Barnhart in the sixth.
It was in the sixth when things went awry for Bailey, who walked three-straight batters while clinging to a 3-1 lead. He said he had trouble feeling his right hand after being jammed on a pitch batting in the top of the sixth.
"But I thought his command was outstanding," Price said. "He might have gotten a little fine in the sixth trying to prevent them from maybe tying the game or taking the lead."
After he walked Blash -- his third walk of the sixth -- Bailey turned his back from the plate and runner Wil Myers at third base. Myers alertly stole home to make it a one-run game.
"I don't know if it was much of a lapse on my part as much as it was heads-up baserunning on his part," Bailey said. "I turned my back for a second and I think he caught everybody off guard."
The miscue didn't take away from a strong debut that leaves optimism going forward.
"Our goal was to go six innings and have him go out there and compete. He did that," Price said. "He went 5 2/3 innings and we got him up to 89 pitches. Good first start, for sure."
Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. 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.