DENVER — If teams with available relievers to trade haven’t reached out to the Reds just yet, they probably should.
Cincinnati’s bullpen was one of the best in the Majors much of this season. But cracks have appeared lately, and no one has struggled more recently than veteran right-hander David Hernandez. In the bottom of the eighth inning, Hernandez gave up two home runs and the Reds were handed a 3-2 loss at Coors Field — their third in a row. That dropped them to 5 1/2 games behind the first-place Cubs in the National League Central race.
• Box score
“You’re so close to getting a positive result, I guess that’s the tough part. I’m just for loss for words, really, for how it’s going,” Hernandez said. “It’s probably been one of my toughest stretches I’ve been through. But I just have to pick it up and go tomorrow and be ready for tomorrow. And try and do better I guess.”
Over his past six appearances, Hernandez has a 24.75 ERA, with 11 earned runs allowed over four innings. He has a 6.28 ERA in 41 appearances overall. Throughout the season, Reds manager David Bell has gone to Hernandez for high-leverage situations. Early on, the results were often positive.
“He’s done a good job for the majority of the year, and he’s going to make the adjustments he needs to and get more opportunities,” Bell said.
The tough times haven’t been limited to Hernandez. The Reds’ bullpen, which is ranked fifth in the NL with a 4.10 ERA, has surrendered 35 earned runs over 29 innings in the club’s past 11 games (10.86 ERA) — including 15 earned runs over the past nine innings over three games.
Expect president of baseball operations Dick Williams and general manager Nick Krall to be on the lookout for relievers who can fortify the club’s bullpen. The Reds aren’t just looking to make improvements for 2019, but 2020 and beyond.
Rendered moot by the outcome Friday was another sensational game by Reds starting pitcher Sonny Gray. Over seven innings, Gray gave up one earned run, five hits and three walks, while striking out nine — including the 900th strikeout of his career. He carried a shutout into the sixth, giving him 13 consecutive scoreless innings, until Daniel Murphy’s double made it a 1-1 game.
Gray pitched eight scoreless innings with a career-high 12 strikeouts against Milwaukee on July 3 and was a late addition last Saturday to the National League All-Star team.
“I feel confident. I feel good mentally. I feel good physically,” Gray said. “I just feel like I’m throwing the ball pretty well. I just want to continue to do that every time I go out there.”
Bell stuck with Gray even when he had the bases loaded after a one-out walk by Ian Desmond followed Murphy’s hit. Gray rewarded the faith by getting Ryan McMahon to ground into a 6-4-3 double play to escape.
Eugenio Suarez led off the top of the seventh inning with a homer to right field for a 2-1 Reds lead. Although Gray gave up a leadoff single, he got a fortunate double play when Curt Casali picked off Tony Wolters at first base as Raimel Tapia struck out.
“He kept making pitches against good hitters. He did his job, for sure, in a hitter’s park against a good lineup,” Bell said of Gray.
Then the ball was given to Hernandez for the Rockies’ eighth. With one out, David Dahl slugged a 2-2 fastball over the middle of the plate for a towering homer to right field. Hernandez was trying to elevate the pitch but missed. Two batters later with two outs, Murphy slugged a 1-2 slider for another homer to right field.
Hernandez, who entered the night with only two homers allowed all season, could only put his hands on his knees with his head down.
“It’s just a game that comes down to execution and when you don’t execute, you learn the hard way,” Hernandez said. “It’s just the way it’s gone the last two or three weeks. You’ve got to move on.”
Bell often uses Hernandez, Amir Garrett, Michael Lorenzen or closer Raisel Iglesias in the late innings. Garrett is currently on the injured list but the other two were well rested also from the All-Star break. Bell was asked if he considered moving Hernandez into lower-leverage situations while he works through things on the mound.
“We’re always evaluating that,” Bell said. “Hopefully, we’re winning enough games where we’re going to need all our guys. David’s a good pitcher. Certainly, he knows what he’s capable of. We know what he is capable of. It is a game of adjustments. He’s going to make those and continue to get the opportunity.”
Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook.