Last-place Cincinnati completed a three-game sweep of a Milwaukee club that entered the week winners of six of eight games, scoring five times in the third inning and riding Luis Castillo's stellar start to a 7-1 win on Wednesday at Great American Ball Park. The Reds outscored the Brewers in the series, 21-8.
"They outplayed us," Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. "We didn't have a good series. Today, we ran into a really good pitching performance. Throughout the series, really, we didn't get much going against their starting pitching."
Castillo followed Homer Bailey's and Robert Stephenson's effective starts by setting a career high with 10 strikeouts while holding the Brewers to Neil Walker's first-inning home run and three other hits in the second eight-inning start of his budding career. Scott Schebler walked with the bases loaded to force home the go-ahead run in the decisive third, and Zack Cozart and Jose Peraza homered late to back Castillo in the Reds' sixth win in their past nine games.
"I feel really good. I was looking fastball, fastball, fastball," Peraza said of his long ball against Brewers All-Star closer Corey Knebel. "When I swung, I knew it was gone."
For the third straight day, the Brewers were denied a chance to gain ground in the NL Central, where they trail the Cubs by 4 1/2 games, and in the race for the second NL Wild Card, where the Brewers temporarily fell into a tie with the Cardinals, three games behind the Rockies. St. Louis and Colorado had later games on Wednesday.
Counsell gambled on struggling veteran starter Matt Garza and lost, as the Reds scored five runs off Garza and reliever Brent Suter in the third inning and never looked back.
"We know what we're playing for. We definitely can turn it around," said Garza, who has a 10.13 ERA over his past six starts. "There's no reason to hang our heads about this. They hit the ball better than we did and pitched better than we did."
MOMENTS THAT MATTERED One and done for Brewers: Walker's one-out homer in the opening inning gave the Brewers an early lead against hard-throwing rookie right-hander Castillo, who stiffened from there. Following a two-out double by Travis Shaw in the top of the first, he retired 11 in a row and 20 of the next 21 batters.
"He really limited their ability to get the ball on the barrel of the bat," Reds manager Bryan Price said.
Costly deflection: After the third inning began with sharp singles from Cozart (104.2 mph, according to Statcast™) and Joey Votto (101.5 mph), the Reds used well-placed hits the rest of the way to take a 5-1 lead, with Garza reflexes contributing to his trouble. Adam Duvall's jam-shot RBI single tied the game at 1 and gave the Reds three straight one-out singles to open the inning, Eugenio Suarez made it four in a row with a hit that glanced off Garza's glove and rolled into right field. Standing right behind Garza was second baseman Hernan Perez, who appeared positioned to start a double play had the baseball not changed directions. Instead, the inning continued with Schebler's go-ahead walk followed by three more Reds runs.
"I was right there," Perez said. "I think it was reaction. He didn't know I was going to be there."
"It probably could have got us out of the inning," said Garza, who confirmed he didn't know where Perez was shifted before the pitch. "I induced weak contact, and they just found holes again. I don't know what to say. I threw the ball a lot better than the results dictated."
"I feel really happy. They're a really good team, I knew that. I just went out there to compete and try to have my best game today." -- Castillo, (via translator Julio Morillo) on shutting down Milwaukee.
"They have good hitters. They have speed, they have power. And I think when they play against us, they play different. I don't know. It's always been tough to win against those guys." -- Perez, on the Reds
HAMILTON HURTS THUMB
While fouling off a bunt attempt in the first inning, Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton suffered an injured left thumb and was lifted for pinch-hitter Phillip Ervin in the third inning. An MRI exam taken after his departure revealed that Hamilton had a fractured thumb, and that he would be in a splint for 10 days.
LONG TIME COMING
When Knebel faltered in the eighth, surrendering Peraza's one-out homer and a Tucker Barnhart walk, the Brewers called upon right-hander Taylor Williams for his long-awaited Major League debut. Williams was once a top 15 prospect in Milwaukee's system, but he missed all of 2015 and '16 with an elbow injury that required Tommy John surgery. He retired former teammate Scooter Gennett and Phillip Ervin to finish the inning.
"It would have been nice to be involved in a win, especially how close the race is now," Williams said. "But it was good to get out there, get my feet wet and really be in control of my nerves."
WHAT'S NEXT Brewers: After a day off Thursday, the Brewers start a critical three-game series against the Cubs with the first regular-season Friday night game at Wrigley Field. How important are these three games as the Brewers chase the Cubs in the National League Central? Milwaukee pushed back Jimmy Nelson from a scheduled start on Wednesday to pitch Friday's 7:05 p.m. CT opener instead, and he is to be followed by Chase Anderson and Zach Davies.
Reds: Tyler Mahle will make his third big league start at 7:10 p.m. ET Thursday as a four-game series opens vs. the Mets at Citi Field. The 22-year-old Mahle is looking for his first win, but he has a 2.45 ERA over his first two starts after he gave up three earned runs and nine hits over 11 innings.