CINCINNATI – This road trip was supposed to be the Diamondbacks’ last, best chance to take care of business, to beat up on the bad teams their schedule had graciously lined up for them, to fatten up for the lean days ahead. It is not off to a good start.
A night after getting shut out, the Diamondbacks watched an eighth-inning lead disappear as the Cincinnati Reds rallied for three runs off reliever Archie Bradley to come away with a 6-3 win at Great American Ball Park on Saturday night.
It apparently was a loss so emotionally charged that Diamondbacks manager Torey Lovullo felt the need to call a team meeting in the visitors’ clubhouse after the game, though he initially denied that such a meeting occurred.
BOX SCORE: Reds 6, Diamondbacks 3
Luckily for the Diamondbacks, neither of the losses in this series cost them a share of first place; the Los Angeles Dodgers, with whom they are tied atop the division, also lost each of the past two days. However, both of the Dodgers’ losses came to the Colorado Rockies, who have climbed to within 1 1/2 games of first in the National League West.
Since the start of the year, Bradley has dealt with a cracked fingernail on his right index finger, an issue that’s made his breaking ball less effective – and, as a result, has made him more reluctant to throw the pitch in key situations. One such situation arose on Saturday.
With two on and two out in the eighth, Bradley threw seven consecutive fastballs to Reds pinch-hitter Tucker Barnhart, who laced the last of them – a 96-mph heater up in the zone – into the gap in left-center field for a go-ahead, two-run double.
Speaking with reporters, Bradley seemed to have a good reason for not throwing the pitch while also acknowledging a need to become less predictable.
“It’s 3-2 and if I walk him on a curveball it’s like, ‘Why did I just do that?’ ” Bradley said. “I haven’t thrown it well all year, why would I throw a pitch right there that I’m not good at throwing right now?
“I think we all know the issues I’ve been having with my curveball this year. It’s been frustrating. It’s just a thing you have to deal with. Maybe you have to find another pitch, throw it more, do something. But I’ve got to do something better than what I’m doing right now.”
Fastballs up in the zone have been far less effective for Bradley this year – opponents have a slugging percentage off them that’s more than double what it was last year – something that could be a result of being able to eliminate pitches.
At one point last season, Bradley allowed just one run in a 24-game stretch. Saturday marked the fourth time in nine outings since the All-Star break he’d given up a run, a span in which he’s allowed 11 runs in 9 2/3 innings. Bradley knows he needs to show hitters more weapons to regain his success from last year.
“You’ll probably see (the curveball) like 50 times in my next outing,” Bradley said. “I might become a thumber. I might start throwing change-ups and curveballs. I’ve got to start throwing the ball better. I’ve got to start getting guys out. Whether it’s more curveballs, change-ups, sliders, knuckleballs – I’ve got to do something.”
Not long after the game, Lovullo apparently called a closed-door meeting with his players. When asked about it, he at first said there was no meeting. When pressed about it, he said, “I don’t have any comment on that.”
Said Bradley: “I mean, that’s our leader. When he speaks, we listen. We’re sitting here a first-place team, a game out of first, whatever it is. Kind of like he told us, it’s our time to go. We have an opportunity in front of us. We know what it takes to get there. We went through it last year. We need to go.”
The Diamondbacks will be looking to avoid a sweep on Sunday afternoon before heading to Texas for two games, followed by a four-game set against the San Diego Padres. Like the Reds, the Rangers and Padres are last-place clubs, and the fewer wins the Diamondbacks record on this trip likely means the more they’ll need to get later in the year, when the schedule isn’t as forgiving.
“I don’t think it carries any more weight, I would say,” lefty Robbie Ray said. “You want to win every game. We’re getting down to August and September and these games are just as big as they were in the beginning of the year.”
Reach Piecoro at (602) 444-8680 or email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickpiecoro.