McCoy: Antone one of the leaders of Reds’ ‘Red Dogs’ bullpen

The Cincinnati Reds bullpen has had its moments so far this season — moments of despair and moments of triumph.

One of the best, if not the best, was Wednesday afternoon in Pittsburgh when four relievers pitched 5 1/3 perfect innings.

Tejay Antone, Lucas Sims, Sean Doolittle and Heath Hembree turned Pittsburgh’s bats into useless kindling, keeping the game at 1-1 until the Reds could score four runs in the 10th inning for a 5-1 victory.

And that is apropos for an oft-maligned group, a one-for-all and all-for-one mentality.

It is so much that way that the bullpen has come up with a name for itself, complete with sweatshirts that say, ‘Red Dogs.’

One of its key members, Tejay Antone, explained the genesis of the name Thursday afternoon before the Reds opened a four-game series in Denver against the Colorado Rockies.

“All the national pre-season projections, like Baseball America, has us losing in the National League Central, being the worst team in the division, having a losing season,” he said. “So we wanted be the underdogs, we are going to wear that mentality.

“We want to be the underdogs so we turned it into the ‘Red ‘Dogs,’” he said. “We love it. It’s fun. It gives us something to joke about, but at the same time be serious and do that job together.”

Thus the sweatshirts.

Pitching coach Derek Johnson showed the bullpen the story projecting the Reds to occupy last place. Said Antone, “Wow, we went to the playoffs last year. We lose one pitcher (Trevor Bauer) and all of a sudden we’re the worst in the division? I think our team is really good this year. When we’re working on all cylinders, we’re a tough team to beat.”

Antone made an appearance this week on MLB Network and said, “It is nice to be recognized. I’ve put in a lot of hours, a lot of hard work. All the years in the minor leagues and coming back from Tommy John (surgery).”

Antone himself is goal-oriented and highly-driven and not afraid to talk publicly about grasping for the stars and for straws.

“The big one (goal) this year is that I want to be on the All-Star team,” he said without hesitation. “That’s a goal of mine. I want to be amongst the best players in this league. That would be a huge accomplishment for me.”

And with a slight giggle, Antone said, “It is probably a little out of the realm, but I want to win the Cy Young also this year.”

A little?

“I always have to shoot high,” he said. “If you are not trying to be the best you are just wasting your time anyway.”

Antone remembers days in the minors when he had what he called, “Haters.” He said he recalls posting ’100′ on his Instagram accounting, meaning his goal was to reach 100 miles an hour with his fastball.

He did on April 6 against the Pirates. And maybe it was 99.8, but if you round it off it’s 100 in anybody’s book.

It has been a long and winding road for the 27-year-old right hander. He was drafted by the Reds out of TCU in 2014. He spent seven year in the minors, with a year off for recuperation from Tommy John surgery.

He has made 11 appearances this season covering 18 2/3 innings. He is 1-and-0 with a save and a 2.41 earned run average. He has given up five runs and six hits while walking nine and striking out 26.

It means something to the bullpen that the Reds are 6-2 in extra-inning games. It means the bullpen is holding the line until the offense can win it.

The finishing touch on the four-man perfect 5 1/3 innings against the Pirates was provided by Heath Hembree, a 1-2-3 10th after the Reds scored four in the top of the inning.

Talk about perfection? Hembree has made seven appearances and given up nothing — no runs, no hits, two walks and eight strikeouts in 7 2/3 innings.

“Heath has been absolutely huge for us,” said Doolittle. “TeJay has been lights out all year. Heath has been the X-factor for us.

“We have guys who are able to pick up the momentum from where the previous guy left off,” said Doolittle. “That game was a group effort with essentially no room for error (1-1 tie all the way).”

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