MILWAUKEE –– By the time the Milwaukee Brewers loaded the bases in the third inning of a tie game on Wednesday, it was clear that Cincinnati Reds starter Vladimir Gutierrez wasn’t pitching anywhere near his best.
Gutierrez had hit two Brewers batters with a pitch near the head. He had allowed two runs in the first inning, had a 7.41 ERA entering the game and had been working on a mechanical adjustment on the mound that hadn’t paid off yet.
Reds manager David Bell gave Gutierrez a shot to get out of the jam, and Gutierrez allowed the go-ahead grand slam. Bell kept the same strategy he had a lot of success with last season, sticking with his starters early in the game, and it didn’t work out as the Reds got another poor start from a member of their rotation.
The Brewers beat the Reds,18-4, and Cincinnati became the first National League team since 1894 to lose 21 of its first 24 games, according to Stats Perform. The Reds allowed 18 runs for the first time since May 20, 2021, and the Brewers scored 18 runs against the Reds for the first time in franchise history.
"I continue do my absolute best to do what’s best for our team," Bell said. "Obviously we’re fighting and scratching to do everything we can to get a win. We want that very badly. We need it in a lot of ways. At the same time, there’s a lot that goes into every decision."
From the first at-bat of the game at American Family Field, Gutierrez didn’t look poised for a long start against the Brewers. Milwaukee second baseman Kolten Wong fouled off seven pitches in the Brewers first at-bat, and Wong drove the 12th pitch of the at-bat over the right field fence for his first homer of the year.
In the top of the first inning, the Reds took an early 2-0 lead on an RBI single from designated hitter Mike Moustakas and a sacrifice fly from first baseman Colin Moran. Even though Gutierrez was pitching with a lead for the first time this season when he took the mound, the results were the same.
"I may have gotten one or two walks that I gave up, and my pitches were actually not that bad," Gutierrez said via interpreter Jorge Merlos. "I was able to locate them well, it's just that they were good swings. There were a couple of (pitches) that stayed low in the zone that they were able to hit."
This season, Gutierrez has walked batters at one of the highest rates in MLB, hit the most batters in MLB and got batters to chase pitches outside the zone at one of the lowest rates in the league. As a result, Gutierrez has had to leave pitches over the middle of the plate in some of the most important moments of the game.
In the third inning against the Brewers, Milwaukee first baseman Rowdy Tellez hit a fastball right down the middle over the right field fence for a grand slam that gave the Brewers a 6-2 lead.
Gutierrez has been working on a mechanical adjustment on the fly, hoping it could spark a quick turnaround. He’s adjusting the timing of his leg lift and trying to hold his leg in the air longer, but he’s still working to become more consistent.
Gutierrez pitched into the fifth inning, but he left the game with an 8.66 ERA.
"Early on, he made some pretty good pitches, but it got away from him a little bit," Reds catcher Aramis Garcia said. "He was struggling to get the ball to his arm-side. His back was against the wall and he had to get out of some tough situations."
Since the Reds have been trailing early in games so consistently, the Reds' best relievers have hardly had the chance to pitch in the most high-leverage moments of the game. In Sunday’s 10-1 loss to the Colorado Rockies, Tony Santillan, Art Warren and Luis Cessa pitched in mop-up duty since they had been getting so little work.
Lucas Sims had only pitched in one game since April 24 heading into the game on Wednesday, and he pitched the eighth inning against the Brewers when the Reds were trailing by 10 runs.
The Reds had a lineup filled with several Triple-A call-ups and injury replacements, and they couldn’t come back from the four-run deficit.
One hour before the game, the Reds placed center fielder Nick Senzel and right fielder Tyler Naquin on the COVID-19 IL. They joined first baseman Joey Votto on the list, and as a result the Reds got up to 15 players in the injured list.
"Tonight may have been the most I’ve really wanted to win a game in quite a long time," Bell said. "Right before the game, we found out about losing a couple players. This team, it was amazing to me as I walked around the clubhouse, we rolled with it and used it as energy to go out and do it together and compete and do everything we could to win a game."
Against the Brewers, the Reds leadoff hitter was center fielder TJ Friedl, who was called up from Triple-A on Sunday. The Reds starting second baseman was Alejo Lopez, who was called up from Triple-A on Tuesday. The Reds were starting three bench players in first baseman Colin Moran, right fielder Matt Reynolds and catcher Aramis Garcia.
Reynolds has been an infielder for nearly his entire professional career, but he was pressed into playing right field due to the Reds’ injuries and COVID-19 situation. It got even worse in the eighth inning when the Reds needed Reynolds to pitch since they were trailing by so many runs.
"You just got to get up and come back tomorrow," Garcia said. "There's no other way around it. You've just got to come back tomorrow, and that's why you play 162."