McCoy: Mahle helps Reds avoid sweep in Chicago

When the 2021 baseball season began, it figured that Luis Castillo and/or Sonny Gray would be the ace/stopper of the Cincinnati Reds pitching staff.

It hasn’t worked out that way. Right now, that label belongs to Tyler Mahle.

It was Mahle who stopped a four-game losing streak last week by shutting out the Washington Nationals for 5 1/3 innings. Facing Nationals star pitcher Max Scherzer, he held the Nationals to three hits.

On Sunday afternoon in Wrigley Field he did even better.

With the Reds facing a three-game sweep by the Chicago Cubs, Mahle pitched five more scoreless innings and held the Cubs to one hit.

That enabled the Reds to post a 5-1 victory and complete a six-game trip with a 3-3 record.

Asked about being a stopper, Mahle smiled broadly and said, “( just go out and try to give us a chance to win, have a good start, and I’ve been fortunate enough that I’ve pitched well the last couple of games.

“The defense is making nice plays behind me and we’re scoring runs,” he added. “That’s three things that’s all I can ask for. It’s not just me, there are a lot of other people have a lot to do with it, too.”

Mahle breezed through the first 12 Cubs batters as if there was nobody in the batter’s box. Twelve up, twelve down.

The perfect game ended in the bottom of the fifth when Mahle walked Ian Happ on four pitches. Then Willson Contreras singled, ending the no-hitter.

In season’s past, this is where Mahle melted into a puddle on the mound. Not now.

He went to full counts on the next three batters and struck out all three — Rafeal Ortega, Patrick Wisdom and Eric Sogard on a generous called strike three from umpire Joe West.

Despite giving up only one hit and one walk, Mahle was lifted after five innings because he had used up 98 pitches to get that far.

As for thoughts of being another of the many who have thrown no-hitters this season, including teammate Wade Miley, Mahle said. “No, I threw way too many pitches. I knew there was no possibility. Usually guys who throw no-hitters are proficient, especially through the first three or four innings. I felt great, but I was efficient enough, so I knew there was no way.”

Mahle, though, owns a no-hitter and a perfect game in the minor leagues.

The walk and single to open the fifth forced Mahle to dig deep, something manager David Bell notices about his young right hander.

“This has been going on for the last couple of years,” said Bell. “He just keeps getting better. He had to work hard today and sometimes that’s what you have to do to keep down a good-hitting team like the Cubs. Sometimes it takes some extra pitches.”

Those extra pitches came via the three straight full-count strikeouts after the first two reached in the fifth.

“I didn’t feel tired or anything, even though it may have looked like it because I was nowhere near the zone to Happ (four-pitch walk),” said Mahle. “Even after Contrearas singled up the middle, I felt pretty confident that I could get a ground ball double play, a punch-out or pop up. I definitely cost myself another inning by being all over the place.”

But he was dead-on while striking out the next three.

Amir Garrett and Lucas Sims maintained the shutout and one-hitter in the sixth and seventh. But the Cubs used a walk and three singles against Cionel Perez to score a run in the eighth.

That forced Reds manager David Bell to go the best he has in the bullpen. He brought in Tejay Antone to face Javier Baez with two on and two outs. Baez grounded out on a full count, leaving it at 5-1.

As efficient as Mahle was, Chicago Cubs starter Jake Arrieta was just as inefficient.

Arrietta survived only 3 2/3 innings and gave up five runs, six hits and a season-high four walks. And his defense didn’t assist him. Three of the five runs were unearned.

The Reds immersed Arrieta in immediate discomfort in the first inning, a three-run explosion.

With one out Jesse Winker singled and Nick Castellanos followed with a single, extending his hitting streak to 16 games. Tyler Stephenson worked a 10-pitch walk, fouling off four 3-and-2 pitches, filling the bases.

The first run scored on Tyler Naquin’s sacrifice fly and that should have been it. But first baseman Kris Bryant bobbled Kyle Farmer’s ground ball for an error as the second run scored and the bases were still loaded. Arrieta hit Tucker Barnhart with a pitch, forcing in a third run.

The Reds added two in the fourth. Eugenio Suarez, finding new life as a leadoff hitter, led the inning off with his 12th home run, his third in the five games he has batted leadoff. The blast traveled 433 feet and crash landed beyond the left field bleachers on Waveland Avenue.

That’s 28 home runs against the Cubs for his career, most against any team. And it is 110 home runs for Suarez since 2018, the most in the majors, one more than Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels.

“Not so much the fact that he has done it in the leadoff spot, I knew it was a matter of time,” said Bell. “His timing looks better and everything is coming into place for him.

“He is taking good swings, going deeper into counts, seeing more pitches,” Bell added. “When he gets his confidence back, he can get hot.”

Despite his struggles to get hits, Suarez has 12 homers in 51 games, about a 40-homer pace.

“It says so much about his ability and his power,” said Bell. “That’s why it can get pretty scary pretty quick when he gets hot. They can come in bunches and it seems he is getting real close to that.”

With two outs and nobody on after Suarez’s home run, Stephenson reached on third baseman Wisdom’s throwing error. Stephenson took second on a wild pitch and scored on Jonathan India’s single, pushing the Reds lead to 5-0.

MONDAY’S GAME

Phillies at Reds, 2:10 p.m., Bally Sports Ohio, 700, 1410