Following Devin Mesoraco's three-run homer in the first inning of Friday's 3-0 win, the Reds have scored only four runs over their last 26 innings. In the two losses, the bullpen has given up 10 runs. But both problem areas were existing before this series.
"It's more challenging now," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "The elephant in the room is we've got [Joey] Votto and [Jay] Bruce [out]. We've got Devin back and that's been a really nice boost for us. Those are pretty essential pieces. We do have some players getting an opportunity to do some things, and I was very optimistic going into today's game that we were going to do some things offensively.
"We got some things started and weren't able to finish. We have to find a way to be able to grind out more than a couple of runs a game. We just can't win this way. We have to be able to score more runs."
In the top of the first inning against Cliff Lee, the Reds took a 2-0 lead. Billy Hamilton led off with a bunt single to the right side and later scored from third base on a Brandon Phillips groundout. Mesoraco, who was 4-for-4, laced a two-out RBI double to left field that scored Chris Heisey.
Lee clamped down after that, especially when there was trouble in the later innings. The Reds, who went 1-for-16 with runners in scoring position, put the leadoff man on base five times after the first inning and couldn't score again until an unearned run crossed in the eighth.
"He's not necessarily an uncomfortable at-bat, but he does a really good job of not giving in and throwing you a fastball down the middle," Heisey said of Lee. "He likes to work the outside corner and he gets you to chase pitches off the corner. He knows what he's doing. He's been a good pitcher for a long time. That's why you have to try to capitalize on those chances."
In the fourth, Mesoraco and Ryan Ludwick started it out with singles before the bottom of the lineup came up empty. Mesoraco hit a leadoff double in the sixth, but the Reds couldn't advance him even 90 feet.
With the career-high four hits, Mesoraco has hits in 14 of his 15 games played and RBIs in 10 of those games. In between two stints on the disabled list, he has an unbelievable slash line of .500/.541/.870. Now the Reds need some others to join him with hot bats, but it won't get easier with the Nationals, Cardinals and Dodgers following next on the schedule.
"We're missing good players for sure," Mesoraco said. "Jay and Joey have been our best players for the past couple of years here. It's something you can't even think about. You have to go out there and do your job, and hopefully somebody is going to step up and somebody is going to get us some big hits and somebody is going to go out and fill in for them."
Back from the disabled list, Reds starter Tony Cingrani pitched six innings and gave up four runs and seven hits -- including three homers -- with three walks and seven strikeouts. It was Cingrani's first start since April 30 before he went out with mild left shoulder tendinitis.
The good news was that Cingrani's fastball velocity was back after a two-week break. The bad news was his two-run lead did not last long. His first two batters -- Jimmy Rollins and Wil Nieves -- welcomed him with back-to-back homers to left field. It was the second time in eight days the Reds' staff allowed homers to the first two batters of the game. The Rockies did it to Alfredo Simon on May 10 at Great American Ball Park.
"That was like above his head," Cingrani said of the 0-2 fastball to Nieves. "The [2-2] pitch to Jimmy was just a bad pitch. That's his sweet spot."
Philadelphia took the lead in the fifth inning after Lee hit a leadoff single to left field. Rollins hit a sharp grounder to third baseman Todd Frazier, who couldn't field it cleanly. Instead of going to first base, Frazier unsuccessfully tried to get Lee at second base in a fielder's choice. The runners advanced on a sacrifice, and with the infield playing back, Chase Utley's groundout to first base scored the go-ahead run.
"That situation in a 2-2 game, you're really trying to avoid them putting it away," Price said. "Right now, it feels like a two- or three-run deficit is going to be very difficult to overcome. Knowing Utley, we know he can hook a ball through the infield. If we pulled the entire infield in, anything that gets past [Neftali] Soto, that's a two-run swing. I just didn't feel like we could take the chance there."
A Marlon Byrd homer off Cingrani in the sixth made it a 4-2 game, but the game got away during a four-run seventh. Manny Parra walked two batters -- including Ryan Howard with two outs. Byrd's RBI single followed, and Cody Asche deposited a 1-1 pitch into the right-field seats for a three-run homer.
The Reds' bullpen has a National League-worst 5.40 ERA after Sunday. Much of the personnel are unchanged from the successful group that was a strength the previous two seasons.
What can be done? There aren't many options currently on the 40-man roster. At Triple-A Louisville, Jumbo Diaz is the only one pitching exceptionally to warrant a callup.
"Right now, we're just not hitting on all cylinders out of the bullpen" Price said. "It's something we haven't had to deal with for a while."