Fresh off his best start of the season, Graves takes the mound for the Reds against the St. Louis Cardinals in the third game of a four-game set at Great American Ball Park.
Hoping to duplicate the success the Boston Red Sox enjoyed last year when former closer Derek Lowe won 20 games in his first year a full-time starter, Cincinnati installed Graves into the starting rotation late last season after four seasons as the Reds closer.
Though Graves may not be a 20-game winner this year, his last outing may be a sign that the left-hander is getting used to his new role.
Against NL West-leading San Francisco at Pac Bell Park last Friday, Graves pitched a career-best seven scoreless innings in a 5-1 victory, earning his first win of the season. He had allowed at least four runs in each of his first five starts this season, but he dominated the Giants, giving up just six singles and not allowing a runner past second base.
In his 10th straight start after beginning his major league career with 363 relief appearances, Graves struck out five while lowering his ERA from 7.81 to 6.23.
“That’s more what I expect out of Danny,” Cincinnati manager Bob Boone said. “I don’t think that’s a fluke.”
The Reds are hoping their first two wins of this series aren’t a fluke as the team tries to overcome a 6-14 start to its season.
On Tuesday night, Barry Larkin came to the plate for the first time in more than three weeks and delivered a pinch-hit two-run homer on his first swing in the ninth inning, giving the Reds a 6-5 victory. One night earlier, Aaron Boone hit a solo shot off Dustin Hermanson in the ninth for a 5-4 win.
Tuesday’s victory gave the Reds a winning record (9-8) at their new ballpark for the first time all season.
Meanwhile, St. Louis—which came to Cincinnati with a seven-game winning streak—is still trying to figure out its problems in the bullpen. Tuesday’s defeat marked the second straight night that Cardinals relievers failed to hold a one-run lead.
St. Louis has one of the NL’s worst bullpens. With closer Jason Isringhausen recovering from offseason shoulder surgery, the Cardinals have blown nine of their 14 save chances, the main reason they’re 2-9 in one-run games.
STANDINGS: Cardinals - 1st place (tied), NL Central. Reds - 4th place, 3 GB, NL Central.
CARDINALS PROBABLE STARTER: Jason Simontacchi (1-1, 6.15 ERA). Simontacchi is coming off his best effort of the season, tossing eight strong innings against the Expos on May 2. He allowed just one run and six hits, and did not allow a home run for just the second time in five starts. The right-hander is 2-1 with a 3.28 ERA in four career starts against the Reds.
REDS PROBABLE STARTER: Graves (1-2, 6.23 ERA). Graves has never started against the Cardinals, and is 1-3 with a 3.74 ERA and 15 saves in 28 career appearances against them.
OFFENSIVE LEADERS: Cardinals - Jim Edmonds, .379 avg.; Edmonds and Albert Pujols, 7 HRs; Edgar Renteria, 29 RBIs; Pujols, 27 runs; Fernando Vina, 3 SBs. Reds - Sean Casey, .299 avg.; Austin Kearns, 10 HRs and 24 RBIs; Casey and Kearns, 22 runs; Felipe Lopez, 6 SBs.
SEASON SERIES: Reds, 2-0.
STREAKS AND NOTES: Cardinals - Left-handed batters are hitting just .170 against RHP Simontacchi. … 1B Tino Martinez is just 2-for-15 since sitting out a four-game suspension for charging the mound after RHP Miguel Batista hit him with a pitch in a game against the Diamondbacks on April 20. … SS Renteria has driven in 12 runs in his last seven games. Reds - INF Aaron Boone is just 1-for-10 in his career against RHP Simontacchi. … OF Jose Guillen had three hits Tuesday, including an RBI single, as he extended his hitting streak to a career-high 11 games. … 1B Casey is hitting .625 (5-for-8) in his career against RHP Simontacchi.
ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Cardinals - 7-10 on the road; Reds - 9-8 at home.
INJURIES: Cardinals - C Joe Girardi (back), 15-day DL; C Steve Torrealba (elbow), 15-day DL; RHP Isringhausen (shoulder), 15-day DL; LHP Lance Painter (hamstring), 15-day DL; RHP Russ Springer (elbow), 15-day DL; RHP Chris Carpenter (shoulder), 60-day DL; RHP Gene Stechschulte (shoulder), 60-day DL. Reds - OF Russell Branyan (shoulder), 15-day DL; OF Griffey Jr. (shoulder), 15-day DL; RHP Jimmy Haynes (back), 15-day DL; RHP Luke Prokopec (arm), 60-day DL.