ST. LOUIS — Luis Cessa made 36 relief appearances and had one cameo appearance as an opener for the Reds this season before being moved to the team’s starting rotation largely out of necessity. The attrition of the Trade Deadline and a long season’s injuries provided him with an opportunity to make his first starts in the Majors since 2018, and on Sunday, he turned in a performance to more than validate that decision.
Cessa tossed five scoreless innings on 75 pitches, allowing only one hit and two walks to pair with a strikeout in Cincinnati’s 3-0 win over the Cardinals at Busch Stadium.
It was his first appearance of at least five scoreless innings since July 9, 2018, as a member of the Yankees, and only the third of his big league career.
“The team is happy,” Cessa said. “We needed that win today. Tough loss last night, so we win today, it’s really good for the team.”
Relievers Derek Law, Joel Kuhnel and Buck Farmer followed Cessa in succession, locking down the last matchup of the season between the NL Central foes. Cincinnati finished with a 7-12 record against the Cardinals this season.
To compete against teams at the top of the standings, Reds manager David Bell said, ‘it takes your best baseball, and I thought both teams played a great series. Incredible defense, really good pitching, good quality baseball on both sides. They won the series, but I felt like we played right with them.”
Stuart Fairchild, who was drafted by the Reds but played for three other teams before lining up for Cincinnati, hit his fifth home run of the season. The Statcast-projected 403-foot, two-run shot was Fairchild’s first home run that scored more than one run, and it chased Cardinals starter Jordan Montgomery from the game with one out in the sixth inning.
“Third time seeing a pitcher, you kind of get a better idea of what his pitches look like,” Fairchild explained. “I’d seen his fastball a bunch earlier in the game, and my plan was just to be ready for a fastball, and he threw me one right down the middle. So it’s definitely a good pitch to swing at.”
“We know he can play. We know he can hit,” Bell said of Fairchild. “The back-to-back starts with the lefties helped, and he came out today and contributed in a big way.”
After Mike Minor surrendered a two-run home run to Yadier Molina with one out in the third inning of Saturday’s first game, the Reds did not allow another earned run in the series — a span of 24 2/3 innings.
“The pitching has been fantastic,” Fairchild said. “The defense has been good too. It’s a good sign going into the last couple of weeks of the season just playing all-around good baseball.”
“We came in with a lot of things to cover,” Bell said. “We didn’t just survive it. We actually really thrived and so many guys — ‘Cess’ today, the bullpen — but really the whole series was well played. Definitely well pitched against a really tough team.”
Cessa made the difficult move from the bullpen to the rotation while in the midst of a Major League season. As he explained all of the inherent challenges — changes to routine, adding workouts, finding rest where he might otherwise have been finding ways to be available — Cessa maintained a wide smile with, clearly, an eye on where his path as a starter could lead.
“It’s just a different type of preparation,” Bell said. “Completely different.
“I think the fact that he had done it before gave him a little bit more confidence, knowing he can do it.”
“I think it’s a big opportunity for me,” Cessa said. “Working hard every time I pitch just maybe gives me the opportunity for next year.”
If he’d had his way, Cessa admitted, he would’ve accomplished the goal of breaking camp as a starter in 2022. He identified the challenges of a short Spring Training and a condensed calendar preventing his buildup as roadblocks that, next season, should no longer be in his way.
His manager concurred that a future as a starter for Cessa is well within the realm of possibility.
“Absolutely,” Bell said. “He’s shown that he can get outs. He has excellent stuff. He can do it as a reliever; relievers are important. We had a need, and the fact that he was able to transition into being a starter and do it this effectively late in the season, not many guys can do that.”