Hunter Greene strikes out 11 in Game 2

Staff report


ST. LOUIS — For a team that finds itself in the position in which the Reds are currently situated, baseball at the end of September offers an important opportunity for learning. Already eliminated from postseason play, they now find themselves evaluating a wide variety of players in a wide variety of ways — some for performance, some for health and some to see whether seasons of journeying through the Minor Leagues might be at an unexpected end.

The Reds were swept in Saturday’s doubleheader at Busch Stadium, losing the first game, 5-1, and the second, 1-0, in 11 innings.

The day’s 20 innings of baseball were capped off by Nick Senzel, moving in from center field to become the club’s fifth infielder, spearing a ground ball and delivering a strong throw home that deflected off Cardinals catcher Andrew Knizner, rolling helplessly away on the grass.

Hunter Greene’s performance in the nightcap, however, went a long way toward easing the frustration of the way the night ended. Placed on the injured list with a right shoulder strain after a superlative start in Miami on Aug. 1 (six innings, one hit, eight strikeouts), Greene made his return to the big leagues with a performance so far beyond sharp as to have seemingly been honed on a whetstone.

“That’s one of the best starts I’ve ever seen,” Reds manager David Bell said. “He just absolutely dominated, and we’re talking about a first-place team with outstanding hitters up and down the lineup. Left, right, it didn’t matter.”

Eight of Greene’s first nine outs recorded were strikeouts, and the first seven of those eight were on pitches registering 101 mph or harder, according to Statcast. Greene became the first pitcher with more than three strikeouts of that velocity in a single outing in the pitch tracking era (since 2008).

He finished with an audacious eight of that variety, and a total of 11, setting a new career high. He threw 47 pitches of 100 mph or harder, breaking his own previous record — which he set April 16 — by eight.

“I have all this built into my own mind, in my own head about how the first game back is gonna be,” Greene explained. “A lot of work put in, a lot of focus, and to come out and then perform well, it’s always nice.”

While steadfastly avoiding peeking at the radar gun in the midst of his performance, Greene did acknowledge that feeling strength coupled with results reinforced his positive outlook.

“I really worked hard in this time off and rehabbing,” he said. “Kind of in a way trying to upgrade myself for this last part of the season and going into the offseason and next year. There was a lot of focus there with that.”

After an untimely injury to righty Justin Dunn, the sudden pressure of a bullpen start immediately before a doubleheader left Bell in an unenviable position when Game 1 starter Mike Minor faltered.

Minor, who volunteered that, “everything [felt] bad” during his start, white-knuckled his way through three innings on 89 pitches, allowing five earned runs on five hits and five walks. What could have spiraled into an innings crisis instead became a different kind of opportunity for journeyman reliever Kyle Dowdy.

Pitching in just his second game for the Reds, and in his first Major League season since 2019, the 29-year-old righty was Cincinnati’s 29th player added for the doubleheader. Called upon to provide as many innings as his arm could shoulder, he tossed four scorless frames, scattering three singles and a walk.

“You just kind of have to have that mindset of going out there to attack hitters and get as many in the strike zone as possible,” Dowdy said. “Try and compete and get outs quickly, provide some length. Luckily, God willing, it kind of happened today.”

Bell said that Dowdy attempted to lobby his way into a fifth inning, but did so before being sent to the mound for the bottom of the seventh. An attempt, Dowdy admitted with a grin, to persuade his manager by catching him off guard.

Whether a pitcher with six years in the Minors who will turn 30 before pitchers and catchers report for Spring Training 2023 is truly in the club’s future is less clear than the import of the organization’s mostly highly touted arms.

On Saturday, though, Dowdy, like Greene after him, had an opportunity. Cracking the door is often the first step in bursting through it.

“Our entire team … had great performances,” Bell said when considering the twin bill. “It’s an empty feeling, it’s a terrible feeling. Some games hurt more than others, for sure. But it doesn’t change a thing about how I feel about our players, how they feel about each other.

“They need to understand that that’s how you play the game. You keep doing that, and a lot of wins are coming.”

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