It was unheard of not that long ago, but now it has become somewhat commonplace: pitchers by committee.
A manager begins a game not with a starting pitcher but a reliever — and with more relievers to follow.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon, certainly not a stranger to taking a risk, tried it Saturday with poor results against a suddenly hot team that’s not playing like a last-place club.
Don’t look for him to make the same mistake Sunday.
Maddon will run out one of his regular starters, right-hander Tyler Chatwood (3-5), at Great American Ball Park to try to avoid a four-game sweep by the Cincinnati Reds, who are playing nothing like the tail-ending team they’ve been all season.
The Reds mounted their second six-game win streak of the year — the first time they’ve done that since 2012 — by making quick work of the Cubs’ starter-by-committee plans Saturday during an 11-2 victory keyed by the pitching of right-hander Anthony DeSclafani.
And, remarkably, keyed by the hitting of DeSclafani, who hit the Reds’ seventh grand slam in 33 days and their third of the week, but the first by a Cincinnati pitcher since Bob Purkey against the Cubs on Aug. 1, 1959.
DeSclafani (3-1) posted his third win in a row while giving up two runs and three hits in 6 1/3 innings.
Cubs reliever-turned-starter Luke Farrell (2-3) was long gone by then, having been lifted with only a 2-1 deficit and two outs in the third inning. The Reds went on to score eight more runs against the Cubs’ bullpen — and catcher Chris Gimenez, who pitched the eighth inning.
DeSclafani’s shot came with two outs in the third inning against left-hander Brian Duensing, and it was a no-doubt drive well up into the left-field stands.
“All in all, I was trying to hit the ball hard somewhere and not strike out,” said DeSclafani, who came into the game with a .138 career batting average. “I knew a fastball was coming and I tried to square it up, and it happened to go out. … It was awesome. It all happened so quick.”
And slowly the Reds, once 8-27, are starting to play the way they expected when the season started. They’ve won nine of 11 and are 5-0 on their current six-game homestand.
“When you get down in the standings, it can be deflating,” said Reds interim manager Jim Riggleman, who replaced Bryan Price during the terrible start. “But they kept coming to the ballpark and working hard, and now we’re getting closer to respectability in the standings, though we’re not there yet.”
The Cubs’ domination of the Reds is disappearing, too – going into the series, they’d won 43 of 62 against them in the last four seasons — as quickly as DeSclafani’s homer reached the seats.
“We’re playing clean baseball — we’ve run the bases, made plays … are getting timely hits,” Riggleman said. “We have a nice string of well-played games.”
This probably isn’t encouraging to the Cubs’ faithful, either. Chatwood is 0-4 with a 4.18 ERA in five career appearances against the Reds. He has walked 63 batters in 68 1/3 innings this season.
Despite Chatwood’s lack of success against the Reds, only Joey Votto (2-for-10, .200) has double-digit at-bats against him.
Chatwood opposes right-hander Sal Romano (4-7), who is coming off his best start of the season — seven shutout innings against the Detroit Tigers on Tuesday. Romano gave up four hits and struck out six despite walking four in a 9-5 Reds victory in which the Tigers scored all of their runs in the ninth inning.
Romano’s last start against the Cubs wasn’t a good one. He surrendered seven runs and six hits in five innings of a 10-0 Chicago victory on May 19. He is 0-1 against them in two career games.
Maddon gave Kris Bryant the day off Saturday after he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts in the Reds’ 6-3 win Friday as he tries to get some of the slumping hitters going. Bryant is likely to be in the lineup Sunday against Romano.
“We’ve got to get (Willson) Contreras going, we’ve got to get KB (Bryant) and (Anthony Rizzo) going,” Maddon said. “I mean, these were our primary offensive weapons last year, and they really haven’t hit their stride yet.”