Now that they’re starting to make something out of what appeared to be a totally lost season, they’d like to keep it going.
The Reds got off to the worst start in baseball at 8-27, one so bad that getting to .500 looked to be as much of a challenge as winning a division title would be for most teams.
But when the Reds (36-48) take on the right-handed Shields and the White Sox on Monday night at Great American Ball Park, in the teams’ first matchup since 2015, they’ll be one of the majors’ hottest clubs. They’ve won 11 of 14 after taking the final two games of a four-game weekend series against the Milwaukee Brewers, and interim manager Jim Riggleman now has a 33-33 record for a last-place team.
Considering that Riggleman took over a Reds team that was 3-15 under former manager Bryan Price, that’s something of an accomplishment. And the Reds own a 6-1 record in interleague games.
“We know we can play with these teams that are in first place in their division,” Riggleman said.
They’re winning now in grand fashion, too. Jose Peraza hit the team’s major league-leading ninth grand slam Sunday in an 8-2 win over the Brewers, their second in two games (pitcher Michael Lorenzen hit a pinch-grand slam Saturday) and sixth in 17 games. They’ve already tied a club season record.
“We’ve been getting better at-bats … and we’ve happened to have men on base,” Riggleman said.
Cincinnati starter Matt Harvey pitched 5 2/3 scoreless innings before being lifted after a rain delay, and the Reds dealt Brewers rookie Freddy Peralta (3-1), who gave up three runs in five innings, his first major league loss. Peralta allowed only one hit in seven shutout innings against the Kansas City Royals in his previous start.
“That’s probably the best I’ve felt since 2013,” said Harvey (4-5), who won his third straight start.
Shields (3-9), likewise, is beginning to see a ray of sunshine in what previously was a gloomy season. He’s coming off his best start of the year, pitching seven shutout innings and giving up four hits Wednesday in a 6-1 win over the Minnesota Twins. It was his 12th quality start of the season, or five more than he had all of last season.
Shields still isn’t the pitcher that won 13 or more games seven times from 2008 to 2015, but it hasn’t helped that he’s pitching for a team that’s off to the second worst start in franchise history. He has allowed a respectable six earned runs in his last four starts, and twice yielded one or no runs while lasting at least seven innings.
At age 36, Shields is making adjustments to compensate for his decreased velocity, yet has pitched at least six innings in 12 of his last 13 starts for a last-place team.
“My body’s feeling really good this year, and this is kind of what I’ve done my whole career,” Shields told reporters after the game against the Twins. “I strive to go as deep as I possibly can in games and so far it’s been good.
“I’m not throwing as hard as I used to. If I were to throw over the top, I’d still throw a little harder than I am right now. (But) at the end of the day, I’m feeling really good with my delivery right now, my mechanics. It’s been a lot of fun making these adjustments.”
Shields goes against Reds right-hander Luis Castillo (5-8), who was 1-3 with a 6.75 ERA in five June starts. He retired the first 11 batters he faced Wednesday at Atlanta, only to give up four quick runs on a walk and five consecutive singles, although the Reds came back to win 6-5.
Castillo is 0-1 in two starts against American League clubs this season, giving up eight runs in six innings. He has never faced the White Sox.
Shields is 18-18 with a 4.57 ERA in interleague play and 0-2 in two career starts against the Reds, the last of which was in 2015.
The White Sox (29-54) ended a three-game losing streak Sunday by salvaging the final game of a three-game series against the Texas Rangers, winning 10-5 as Avisail Garcia went 4-for-5 with a double and an RBI.
The Reds have won five consecutive interleague games but are facing the White Sox at Great American Ball Park for the first time since 2009. The White Sox are 16-4 overall against the Reds and 10-2 in Cincinnati, though that success there predated any of the current players.