CINCINNATI • With the distaste from the shortest and worst start of his career still curdling inside after it happened last week, Cardinals righty Adam Wainwright said that he would “remember that feeling, but never wanted to revisit it again.”
He did not expect a few days later to relive it.
For the second time in a week, the Cincinnati Reds ambushed the Cardinals’ ace, scoring early and often en route to a 7-2 trouncing Monday afternoon at Great American Ball Park. The Reds scored six runs in their first four innings against Wainwright, got home runs from Shin-Soo Choo and Joey Votto, and followed a 100-pitch complete game from Mat Latos.
The Reds (77-61) used the win to tiptoe closer to the Cardinals (79-58) in the standings. The rivals may be closer than they appear. Ask Wainwright.
In his past two starts, both against Cincinnati, the Reds have scored 15 runs in six innings and in less than seven days added half a run to Wainwright’s ERA. It is the first time in his career that he’s allowed at least six runs in consecutive starts.
“I’m obviously frustrated,” Wainwright said. “This team deserves more from me, and the last two times out I haven’t given them what they deserve. I’ll ask them to be patient. I plan to be very good down the stretch.”
CARDS CHAT: GOOLD AT 11 AM
A day after tying Pittsburgh for first place atop the division, the Cardinals slipped a game behind as the Pirates won in Milwaukee. The Reds are 2½ games behind the Cardinals, and all three teams are jostling for position to win the division and avoid the one-game wild-card playoff.
September opens with the Cardinals facing instability from a starting rotation that was their strength and may be showing wear. The Cardinals have lost three of the first four games on this seven-day sojourn against their two chief challengers for the National League Central title, and in each loss the starter has blinked first. Other than Joe Kelly’s six-inning gem Sunday in Pittsburgh – the lone win on the trip so far – the rotation has allowed 18 runs and 37 baserunners in 14 1/3 innings. Cardinals starters have lost four of the team’s past five games and carry a 11.29 ERA in their past five starts before rookie Michael Wacha returns to the rotation tonight.
Instead of being the one who stops such trends, Wainwright (15-9) has been caught in the turbulence. Since a 128-pitch complete game against Atlanta, Wainwright’s Cy Young Award-resume took a detour. He has lost both starts and his ERA rose from 2.58 to 3.14. The Cardinals have lost five of his past eight starts.
Wainwright insisted that he was not hampered by the workload or injured. He said Monday afternoon that he is more “fatigued mentally” than physically.
“The reason I’m so frustrated is because I feel so good,” Wainwright said, “and I’m not making it happen for us.”
Reds leadoff hitter Choo fell behind 0-2 to start the bottom of the first inning, saw eight pitches, and then singled off Wainwright to start the first of the Reds’ scoring rallies. Choo scored on Ryan Ludwick’s two-out RBI single — a poke to left-center field on Wainwright’s curveball. Several times in the early innings, Wainwright did not get a call on a waterfall curve that appeared to drop into the strike zone. He found himself stuck in hitter’s counts.
In the second inning, the first two batters reached and Choo’s two-run homer put the Reds ahead 4-0. Wainwright wouldn’t throw a scoreless inning until the fifth, and it was his first against the Reds since June 7. Including the two-inning drubbing last week at Busch Stadium, the Reds went eight innings against Wainwright and scored 17 runs on 23 hits, nine of which were for extra bases.
The Cardinals wondered if the Reds spied Wainwright tipping pitches.
“That’s always one of the first lines of defense when you’re trying to break things down,” manager Mike Matheny said. “You want to make sure you’re not giving them anything for free. We’ve been breaking it down trying different things. You’re always on the lookout for that. It’s possible.”
After one of those changes, Wainwright finished his six innings with two scoreless. Wainwright retired six of the final seven batters he faced, though he pitched his final two innings without Yadier Molina behind the plate. Molina was removed from the game with a sore left wrist, an injury that he initially dealt with during spring training.
Matheny said he didn’t stick with Wainwright to protect the bullpen, but rather to give his ace a laboratory to work through his glitches.
“He figures it out by going out there and pitching,” Matheny said. “You can sit over here and think about it all you want, but he’s got to pitch to get through it. We’re in a stretch. We’re in a push. He wants the ball so that he can try to get right.”
For the fifth time in Latos’ past six starts against the Cardinals, the Reds won. Latos threw his first complete game of the season by limiting the Cardinals to two runs on four hits. The righty with the fastball-first approach is 18-4 at the cozy Great American Ball Park, a place that usually performs alchemy on a starter’s ERA by turning fly balls into homers.
In their three losses on this trip, the Cardinals have been outscored 17-3 in the first four innings. While that chases the Cardinals’ starter from the game, that also eases the opponent’s into it. Wainwright doubled to open the third inning against Latos and a couple of sacrifice hits allowed the Cardinals to cut the Reds’ lead down to 4-2.
The threat didn’t last.
Wainwright allowed a single run in each of the next two innings, including a solo home run by Votto on a 93 mph fastball, for the Reds to extend their lead. The Cardinals didn’t get a runner to second base after the third inning against Latos.
“It’s a day-to-day battle,” Cardinals outfielder Matt Holliday said. “It’s going to be a day-to-day battle the rest of the year.”