Reds Avoid Sweep

Mat Latos has been a huge presence in the Cincinnati rotation since they shipped a healthy prospect package to San Diego to get him before last season. He finished strong and was a big contributor to the Reds success in 2012 and has remained effective atop their rotation during Johnny Cueto's absence this year.

Cincinnati avoided a sweep at Arizona last night by beating the Diamondbacks 4-2. Things started off well for the visitors when Shin-soo Choo led off the game with a home run. Later that inning Brandon Phillips popped a two run homer, providing all the runs they would need in the contest. Xavier Paul added some insurance by leading off the next inning with a double and scoring on a Zach Cozart sac fly. Joey Votto collected three hits and improved his league leading on-base percentage to .440. Before the season Phillips might not have been the Reds first choice for cleanup but he's been back there since the opening day injury to Ryan Ludwick and is second in the NL in RBI. Jay Bruce also continued swinging a hot bat with two doubles.

The Reds would not score again in the game but Mat Latos would made the early runs hold up by pitching into the eighth inning and allowing only one run. The big right-hander allowed six hits and a couple of walks while tying a personal best thirteen strikeouts. He picked up the win to improve his record to 7-1 and lower his ERA to 3.05. Aroldis Chapman allowed a run in the ninth, but still qualified for his nineteenth save.

Johnny Cueto's presence non-withstanding, make no doubt about it, Latos is an "ace-quality" pitcher atop the Reds rotation. Actually the term "ace" is perhaps overrated a bit, at least when teams are cycling through their rotations during the regular season. If everything goes as planned like the 2012 Cincinnati rotation that did not miss a start, the ace doesn't get any more starts than the numbers 2 & 3 men. In 2012 Cueto got only three more starts than five-man Mike Leake. In 2013 Latos has stepped up much of his time as the team's designated stopper atop their rotation while Cueto did a couple of stints on the DL.

And step up he has. Perhaps he took a long look at his offseason regiment this past year because this season he exorcised the April demons that plagued him previously. In six April starts he went 2-0 with a 2.89 ERA. Before that he was a combined 2-8/5.08 pre-May over his previous three seasons. Sunday's performance cracked the top ten in the NL in wins and strikeouts.

The asking price for Latos was steep, three first-rounders and the Reds 2011 opening day starter, but a year and a half later he's still returning dividends. Yonder Alonso is doing ok, hitting .276/.345 OB since playing regularly with the Padres, but he has only nine home runs in 209 games which is way below the power output teams want out of a first baseman, especially when said team plays in hitter-friendly Great American Ball Park. With Joey Votto on the team he did not have a spot in the Reds lineup after they aborted the attempt to convert him into a left-fielder. Bruce Boxberger has only seen action in 30 MLB games. Yasmani Grandal had a nice rookie season but is hitting only .210 since coming back from a fifty game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs. Edinson Volquez had a decent 2012 but that was more a creation of his spacious home venue where his ERA was around 2.5 runs lower than what he put up on the road and thus far in 2013 he's over 5.5.

Meanwhile Latos teams with Cueto to give the Reds a 1-2 combo that is as formidable as anyone's in the league. Leake has survived threats to his five-man job from prospect Tony Cingrani and offseason considerations to convert Chapman into a starter and now he's sitting at 7-3/2.61 ERA and bucking for a spot on the all-star team. On another squad he would have shed his five-man label but with the Reds both Bronson Arroyo and Homer Bailey are once again keeping sub-four ernies.

Ace, five-man, mid-rotation, whatever….the Reds are happy to have each one in their rotation quintet taking the ball every fifth game. Cueto's injuries broke their impressive streak of not missing a start, but Cingrani is now parked in their bullpen with a sub-three ERA and has proved to be more than a capable backup when someone else is needed to take a turn. It kind of makes one wonder what future Greg Reynolds has with the organization. The former #2 overall selection is trying to revive an injury-riddled career at Louisville and as he nears the opt-out date in his minor league contract his current 9-0/2.23 in AAA this year hasn't gotten him a sniff at action with the Reds.

For the team it's a good problem to have. The pitching staff was the strength of last year's successful 97-win campaign for the Reds and the rotation remains that way in 2013. Cincinnati has upgraded their lineup this season which is now third in the NL in runs/game, up from a ninth place finish last year. It will be needed because the competition is stiffer this time around playing in the same division as St. Louis who currently has the best record in baseball and the Pirates who are once again making some first half noise and leading the wild card race. The Reds should remain in the race until the end and will be counting on Latos to make some big starts during the pennant stretch like he provided in 2012.

Down on the Farm:

Louisville allowed five runs in the fifth inning in an 8-5 home loss to Rochester. Yohan Pino got the start and did not make it out of the fifth inning while allowing six runs (four earned) and taking the loss. Zack Duke and Logan Ondrusek both tossed a scoreless inning and kept zero ERA's since their recent arrival with the Bats. Billy Hamilton did his thing to give his team a lead in the first inning when he led off with a single, swiped third in a double steal and scored on a sac fly. He struck again the seventh with a two-run single. Louisville came up short in their comeback attempt which included back-to-back solo homers by Neftali Soto and Mike Hessman in the eighth. Hamilton and Denis Phipps both had a pair of hits with Phipps also drawing a walk. Soto drew a free pass in addition to his long ball.

Pensacola took fourteen innings to win 4-3 at Montgomery. The Wahoos blew a three-run lead earlier that was provided by a bases-loaded walk to Luis Durango in the second and two runs crossing from a wild pitch and sac fly in the fourth. Ryan LaMarre crossed with the game-winner after leading off the final inning with a double and scoring on a throwing error on Durango's bunt single. Durango finished with three of the eight fish hits and also drew a walk. LaMarre, Ray Chang, and Marquez Smith each reached twice from a hit and a walk. Josh Smith got no decision from allowing two runs on five hits in five innings. He ran up his pitch count with three walks and five strikeouts. Loek Van Mil, Chris Manno, and Wilken De La Rosa combined to give Pensacola eight scoreless innings of relief with De La Rosa tossing the final three and getting the win.

Bakersfield had two four-run rallies, but it was not enough in their 9-8 home loss to High Desert. Juan Duran gave his team a lead in the third by doubling home three runs and scoring on a Steve Selsky single. Five hits in the sixth which included doubles by Selsky, Kyle Waldrop and Juan Silva gave the Blaze another lead. Selsky, Silva, and Joe Terry each had two of their team's ten hits. Ryan Wright reached with a hit and a walk while Juan Silverio walked, was hit by a pitch, and hit a sac fly. Mike Dennhardt got no decision from allowing five runs in six innings. Kyle Lotzkar entered in the ninth and allowed three runs for the loss.

Dayton took a lead after allowing four runs in the first inning but was sunk later when Lansing plated eight in the seventh in a 14-8 Dragon loss at Fifth Third Field. Ismael Guillon got the start but did not make it out of the first inning while giving up three runs (two earned), three hits, and three walks. Wandy Peralta relieved him by allowing two runs in three-plus innings and took the loss. Ben Klimesh finished with two scoreless frames to lower his ERA to 2.78. Daniel Piggott, Seth Mejia-Brean, Jeff Gelalich, and Zach Vincej each had two of their team's ten hits with Gelalich also reaching via a walk. Junior Arias reached with a hit and a walk.

Billings improved to 3-1 with a 4-2 win at Helena. The Mustangs took a four-run lead from RBI-hits from Ty Washington and Nick Benedetto in the second inning, an RBI-groundout from Phillip Ervin in the second, and a homer by Daniel Paula leading off the third. Paula had three hits and the day while Ervin, Washington, and Avain Rachal added two apiece. Rachal reached safely another time with a walk. Jose Guzman was sharp in his first start of the season, tossing five shutout innings and allowing only three hits without a walk and punching out six strikeouts for the win. Werleen Taveras relieved him with two scoreless frames and Abel De Los Santos entered in the ninth and shut down a two-run Helena rally for the save.

The AZL Reds took a three-run lead after three innings and held on for a 4-3 win at the AZL Brewers. They took an early lead with two runs in the first inning that came without a hit. J.R. Reynolds led off the third with a home run in his first professional at-bat and Kevin Garcia added some insurance that would be needed with a solo homer in the sixth. Reynolds and Ronald Bueno both reached safely twice with a hit and a walk. Bernardo Moreta got the start and the win by allowing two runs on four hits without a walk while striking out six in five innings. Five Reds pitchers combined for four scoreless innings of relief with Fabian Roman retiring the side in order in the ninth for the save.

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