Cincinnati Reds manager David Bell tried to show his faith in struggling closer Amir Garrett by bringing him out of the bullpen with a three-run lead in the ninth inning.
The move backfired and the Reds dropped their series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Garrett surrendered a game-tying, three-run homer to former Reds utility player Josh VanMeter and then the wheels fell off in the 10th inning in an 8-5 loss at Great American Ball Park. The Reds have lost four of their five games against the Diamondbacks this season, including two on Wednesday.
"These two losses are on me and I take full accountability for it," said Garrett, who received the loss in the suspended game that was completed Wednesday. "This (stuff) ain’t going to happen no more because this isn’t me. It stinks right now.
"It’s embarrassing that I’m pitching like this because I’m way better than this. I’m way better than this."
It’s been a disastrous start to the season for Garrett. He walked two of the first three batters he faced. VanMeter’s homer was on an 84-mph slider that caught the inside part of the plate. VanMeter bashed it 386 feet into the right-field seats.
It was Garrett’s first blown save of the season, but he admits that it's hard to trust his stuff in any situation.
"My slider is not worth anything right now," Garrett said. "I’m falling behind in counts. I think it’s me not trusting my abilities right now at the moment. That can be fixed. It can take a day for it to be fixed. All I got to do is get that one clean one out of the way and it’s going to be a domino effect from there."
Tyler Mahle pitched 6 2/3 scoreless innings and Tejay Antone followed with 1 1/3 shutout innings before Garrett took the mound with a 3-0 lead in the ninth inning.
Garrett had warmed up by the eighth inning with a left-handed-heavy part of the Diamondbacks order up, but Antone struck out three of the four batters in the inning.
"It was asking a lot of Tejay after (Tuesday) night," Bell said. "I would not have felt good about throwing him another inning in the ninth and we had Amir ready to go. That's going to be a spot where Amir's going to get the job done – didn't happen tonight, but felt good about the way we used those guys."
Garrett threw just 10 of his 25 pitches for strikes. He's yielded nine hits and nine runs in five innings this season (16.00 ERA) while walking four. Even left-handed hitters have a .533 on-base percentage against him.
After he was removed with two outs in the ninth inning Wednesday, he paced in the dugout and then sat down with a towel over his head.
“It’s a very tough time for me," Garrett said. "Nothing is clicking right now. But I’m still as confident as ever. I’m still staying positive is the main thing. It is April 21 or whatever. My teammates are going to need me to turn it around and turn it around quick.
"I’m going to continue to work hard. That’s all I can do. I can’t sulk. I had a little tantrum, that’s over with now. I have to look forward to tomorrow. My teammates are going to need me. It sucks but this game was made for us to fail a lot. I’m not going to go down that hole of continuing to fail.”
Bell remains confident in Garrett. He believes that his inconsistent workload – the Reds haven't played many close games – following a shortened spring has contributed to his rough start.
"He has to continue to pitch," Bell said. "He's a very important pitcher in our bullpen. We need him. He's going to continue to get many more opportunities to do that. It's just a matter of time. He just needs to pitch more. We'll find the right spots for him."
Garrett says he won't make any excuses. He was dominant in spring training and he expected to be dominant at the start of the season. He said he planned to watch more video of his outings, but he's not throwing his slider with his usual conviction.
"This is not going to continue to happen," he said. "With my personality, with my willingness to compete, this (stuff) ain’t going to happen too much anymore. I can promise you that.”
Despite Garrett's blown save, the Reds nearly won the game in the bottom of the ninth inning. Pinch-hitter Mark Payton drew a walk and Tyler Stephenson hit a bloop, two-out double into right field.
Payton, trying to score from first, slowed for a moment at second base to see if the ball dropped. The hesitation cost him when he was thrown out at the plate by about two steps on a throw from right fielder Kole Calhoun.
"That was the game right there," Bell said.
The Diamondbacks scored five runs in the 10th inning. Their rally started when lefty reliever Cionel Pérez induced a ground ball with the infield drawn in, but second baseman Alex Blandino fumbled his attempt at a barehanded play to try to save a run.
More runs scored on a wild pitch, a hit batsman and a two-run single by Wyatt Mathisen.
The loss spoiled a terrific start from Mahle, who permitted just five batters to reach base (two infield singles, two walks and a hit batsman) on a frigid 41-degree evening. Mahle tied his season-high with nine strikeouts. The D-Backs had only three balls leave the infield.
Antone was just as dominant and the Reds were hoping Garrett could preserve the shutout and build his confidence. Instead, it turned into the team's third consecutive loss.
Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson often tells Garrett when he's struggling that "the worm will turn."
"When that thing turns," Garrett said, "I’m going to be (bleeping) hot because I’m livid right now."