McCoy: Reds squander lead in the 9th, fall to Nationals

Credit: AP

Credit: AP

It is manager David Bell’s modus operandi, equal opportunity for all. Sometimes, though, figuring out Bell’s lineup manipulations is more difficult than figuring out trigonometry.

The Cincinnati Reds lineup seldom is the same day-to-day and that certainly was the case for the second game of the season Saturday afternoon.

After beating the Washington Nationals, 8-2, on Opening Day, Bell shuffled his lineup for game two the way a Las Vegas blackjack dealer shuffles the decks.

— Nick Martinii hit two home runs on Opening Day but was not in the lineup.

— Jonathan India was flawless and flashy at second base in the opener, but on Saturday he was the designated hitter. His replacement at second base was newcomer Santiago Espinal.

— Jeimer Candelario, 0 for 4 with three strikeouts batting clean-up in the order in the opener, was back and still batting fourth.

— Jake Fraley, who had two hits and scored two runs, had a squirmy seat in the dugout.

— Catcher Tyler Stephenson had two hits in the first game, but was on the bench, replaced by Luke Maile. That one is a bit understandable because Maile was pitcher Hunter Greene’s catching caddie most of last season.

In fairness, the Nationals started left-hander Patrick Corbin and Bell wanted some right-handed batters in his lineup. And he said late in spring training he wanted to utilize his entire roster in the early going.

He accomplished that.

And how did it all work out?

For eight innings, fair thee well. The Reds took a one-run lead into the ninth inning and handed the baseball to closer Alexis Diaz, the man who always handles the closing ceremonies — 37 saves in 41 opportunities last season.

But not on this day. Diaz gave up three runs in the ninth and Washington snatched away a 7-6 victory.

Up until then, despite some defensive deficiencies, Bell’s handiwork worked well.

Maile hit a two-run home run. Martini was afforded a chance as a pinch-hitter and his storybook time continued.

His two-run double in the eighth inning broke a 4-4 tie and gave the Reds a 6-4 lead, the two-run lead Diaz couldn’t protect.

It began with a walk to C.J. Abrams and a stolen base. Diaz struck out Lane Thomas, but old Cincinnati friend Jesse Winker singled home Abrams.

The Reds still led by one, but Joey Meneses singled pinch-runner Victor Robles to third and pinch-runner Nasim Nunez stole second.

Diaz walked Joey Gallo to fill the bases and hit Keibert Ruiz, forcing in the tying run. Brent Suter replaced Diaz and Eddie Rosario skied a sacrifice fly that produced the go-ahead and winning run.

The Reds led the National League in walk-off wins last season with 10 … and they put the tying run on first with one out in the bottom of the ninth, but Will Benson struck out and pinch-hitter Stephenson grounded out to end it.

“I thought (Diaz) got squeezed a little bit early-on,” said Maile, politely indicating that umpire C.B. Bucknor missed some calls on the leadoff walk in the ninth to Abrams.

“He made some decent pitches, they just made better swings, as simple as that,” Maile added. “We got ourselves behind the eight-ball with some traffic and he had to be careful with certain guys, and that compounded it.

“He looked fine, his stuff was good, and it is just a blip on the radar as far as I’m concerned.”

Starter Hunter Greene used a deceptive slider and a fastball that touched 100 miles an hour five times in the first inning and pitched three scoreless innings.

But walks in the fourth and fifth innings were fatal. A leadoff walk Winker in the fourth resulted in a run. Meneses doubled Winker to third.

Ruiz blooped one to shallow center. Shortstop Elly De La Cruz tried to make a back-to-the-infield snag, but it deflected off his glove and Winker scored for a 1-0 Washington leqd.

It lasted only until the Reds came to bat. Candelario unloaded a home run to left field to tie it. No surprise there. Corbin gave up 33 home runs last season.

Washington barged back in front in the fifth when Greene walked two straight with one out and Winker singled off Greene’s glove to fill the bases.

Meneses lobbed a sacrifice fly to push the Nats to a 2-1 lead on Greene’s 100th pitch and his day was done. Justin Wilson replaced Greene and recorded the third out.

“There was some stuff behind me that I couldn’t control and that added to my pitch count,” said Greene, referring to several balls that were catchable and eluded defenders.

“I was a bit jumpy, too,” he said. “I was full of adrenaline and didn’t even feel my legs and that put a little stress on my upper body.”

After falling behind, 2-1, the Reds responded with a three-spot. It began with a perfect bunt hit by De La Cruz. He tried to steal second, appeared safe, but was called out. Replay/Review confirmed the out.

But the next four Reds recorded hits for three runs, including Maile’s two-run homer and the Reds led, 4-2.

Fernando Cruz gave up a triple to Abrams leading off the seventh and wild pitched him home, cutting the lead to 4-3 and Lucas Sims gave up a game-tying home run in the eighth to Ruiz, who had three hits and drove in two runs.

Then came Martini’s two-run pinch-hit double, a 6-4 lead that Diaz couldn’t protect.

The Reds bullpen gave up five runs and six hits in 4 1/3 innings.

Said Bell of Diaz, “First time out and he wasn’t as sharp as we’ve seen him at times. He got off to a tough start on pitches that were close. It is just as matter of Alexis getting settled in here. He is going to be fine. He has been outstanding for us for a long time in those situations.”

And about his team’s defensive clumsiness, Bell said, “The defense … the best way to sum it up is that there were several plays that should have been made and weren’t.”

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