DENVER – People can debate whether the automatic runner at second base rule in extra innings is a good or bad thing for Major League Baseball, but there’s no debating how the Cincinnati Reds have benefitted from it.
The Reds have played the most extra-inning games in MLB this season and they’ve posted a 6-2 record in them. They’ve scored the automatic runner at second base in all eight games. What the Reds have done so well is moving the runner at second base to third with their first hitter.
Here’s a look at the Reds’ extra-inning games this season:
• Reds win 6-5 in 10 innings at Arizona Diamondbacks (April 9): Mike Moustakas moved the automatic runner over to third base with a groundout on the right side of the infield. After an intentional walk and a strikeout, Tucker Barnhart hit a two-out, RBI single into left field.
• Reds win 3-2 in 10 innings vs. Cleveland (April 16): Tyler Naquin advanced the runner from second to third with a flyout to center field. Following an intentional walk, Tyler Stephenson hit a walk-off single to right-center field.
• Reds lose 8-5 in 10 innings vs. Diamondbacks (April 20): The Reds gave up five runs in the top of the 10th inning, but Alex Blandino responded with a leadoff RBI double. Tyler Naquin added an RBI single later in the inning.
• Reds lose 14-11 in 10 innings vs. Diamondbacks (April 21): The Reds’ bullpen allowed six runs in the top half of the inning. Jonathan India opened the bottom half of the inning with a pop-out in foul territory, but then Barnhart hit an RBI single to right field. Nick Castellanos hit a two-out, two-run single.
• Reds win 5-3 in 10 innings at Los Angeles Dodgers (April 26): Jesse Winker hammered a go-ahead, two-run homer to left field off Kenley Jansen.
• Reds win 13-12 in 10 innings vs. Chicago Cubs (May 2): Winker, the automatic runner at second base, advanced to third on a wild pitch. Castellanos poked a walk-off single to center field.
• Reds win 1-0 in 10 innings vs. Chicago White Sox (May 5): Nick Senzel battled from an 0-2 count to hit a single into left field against White Sox closer Liam Hendriks. Winker, who fell into his own 0-2 hole, ended an eight-pitch at-bat with a walk-off single to center.
• Reds win 5-1 in 10 innings at Pittsburgh Pirates (May 12): Winker opened the top of the 10th with an RBI single to left field. After the next two batters reached base, Eugenio Suárez smacked a three-run double into the gap in left-center.
The Reds have an 11-15 record in games that end in nine innings. Some teams that are off to disappointing starts can point to their struggles in extra-inning games. The Minnesota Twins are 0-7 in extra innings. The Dodgers are 1-6.
Reds relievers deserve credit for how they’ve been mostly successful navigating innings with the runner at second base to begin those innings, but the offense continues to deliver with strong situational hitting.
1. Jesse Winker – Here’s a fun blind comparison between two of the best hitters in the league:
Player A: .355/.477/.673 slash line with eight homers, eight doubles, 18 RBI and 22 runs in 107 at-bats.
Player B: .375/.431/.670 slash line with seven homers, 10 doubles, 20 RBI and 25 runs in 112 at-bats.
Winker is Player B.
“The guy just hits,” Sonny Gray said. “He’s born to hit. He picks up a bat and he hits.”
Mike Trout is Player A.
2. Kyle Farmer – When Farmer was viewed as the leading candidate to start at shortstop before the season, the biggest question is whether he could hit right-handed pitching.
Given an opportunity to start consistently at shortstop after Joey Votto’s broken thumb, Farmer is making the most of his chances against righties. He had five singles in 12 at-bats against them this week.
Farmer isn’t crushing righties (.690 OPS in 27 games), but that’s about league-average production vs. right-handed pitching. He’s the best defensive shortstop on the roster, so if he can prove he can hit righties, that could go a long way for his chance to stick at the position for more than a couple of weeks.
3. Eugenio Suárez – It was a nice series for Suárez with five hits in 13 at-bats, which included a solo home run Monday and a bases-clearing, three-run double Wednesday. The question is whether it was just a nice series against a last-place team or a sign that he will break out of his slump.
His three-run double in the 10th inning Wednesday was the hardest hit ball of the game (111.5 mph exit velocity) and his hardest hit of the season. His seventh-inning single left his bat at 108.8 mph. He had a couple of soft hits Tuesday, so he wasn’t blistering pitches all week, but Wednesday was a good day at the plate for him.
1. Jeff Hoffman – He didn’t give up much hard contact in his start against the Pirates on Tuesday, but he’s struggled with consistency in his last three outings. He’s been falling behind in counts too often and he hasn’t provided much length.
Hoffman has yielded 10 hits and 10 runs in his last 10 1/3 innings. He allowed three runs on four hits and two walks across four innings against a struggling Pirates lineup. Hitters are 0-for-17 against his slider this season, so it’s important he finds a good feel for that pitch.
“We believe in what he’s doing and the work he’s doing,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He has the talent. He has the arm. He’s had success. He continues to be part of our rotation, and he’ll get more opportunities.”
2. Shogo Akiyama – He’s been a bench player since returning from the injured list, losing a potential starting spot in center field to Tyler Naquin. Bell said Akiyama understood the situation and handled it well, but it's not an easy adjustment. He's hitless in his first eight at-bats.
“We have a long way to go and Shogo is going to be a big part of the team,” Bell said. “He's going to get a lot of playing time. But right now, it's not about Shogo; it's more about the guys that are playing.”
3. Reds pinch-hitters – The Reds like to play the matchups, burning Alex Blandino on Wednesday for a left-on-right battle between Akiyama and Clay Holmes, but they haven’t received much of an offensive boost from their bench this season.
Pinch-hitters were 0-for-5 in their three games against the Pirates. Jonathan India was hit by a pitch Monday, the only pinch-hitter to reach base. Reds pinch-hitters are batting .167 (8-for-48) this season with no extra-base hits, five walks and 18 strikeouts.
By comparison, Reds pitchers are batting .121 (7-for-58) with a double, four walks and 21 strikeouts.
AROUND THE FARM
Triple-A Louisville (2-5): Outfielder Scott Heineman, who is on the 40-man roster, is off to a nice start in his minor-league season. He’s hitting .348 through seven games with a triple, a homer, four RBI and five runs scored.
Double-A Chattanooga (5-3): Catcher Mark Kolozsvary homered off Shane Bieber in a spring training “B” game, so maybe his power shouldn’t be a surprise. In his first six games this year, he has 10 hits in 18 at-bats with six doubles, two homers, 10 RBI and seven runs. He’s added five walks, giving himself a .652 on-base percentage.
High-A Dayton (5-3): Right-hander Noah Davis carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning Wednesday, though he struggled with his command by walking five batters. In two starts this year, he’s struck out 16 in 10 innings while allowing only two hits.
Low-A Daytona (4-3): The Reds were aggressive in trying to sign undrafted free agents last summer (draft was shortened from 40 rounds to five). Right-hander Carson Spiers, out of Clemson, has struck out 13 and walked three in 10 2/3 innings while giving up eight hits and one run.
(4-game series at Coors Field)
Who is hot: Trevor Story, who could be the best player available on the trade market this summer, is hitting .308 with a .426 on-base percentage in 11 games this month. He’s hit three doubles and two homers in his last 39 at-bats, scoring 10 times and driving in seven runs.
Who is not: Matt Adams, a longtime St. Louis Cardinals slugger, has been a lefty bat off the bench for the Rockies, but he’s 2-for-19 with zero extra-base hits this year.