It's been an up-and-down start thus far for the Cincinnati Reds, who will try to stay on the "up" end Sunday by taking a third of four games from the Miami Marlins in Sunday's finale
The reigning NL Central champions raced to a 5-2 start, averaging 7.3 runs, and promptly dropped five in a row. Cincinnati (10-8) has since regrouped to win five of six, this time on the strength of strong pitching as it has posted a 1.40 ERA with 58 strikeouts in 58 innings.
Manager Dusty Baker's bullpen provided five shutout innings in Saturday's 3-2, 13-inning victory, helping the Reds overcome stranding 17 runners and going 1 for 12 with runners in scoring position. Baker credited starter Bronson Arroyo for giving his relievers a chance to be effective after throwing eight innings.
"Bronson pitched a heck of a game,'' said Baker, whose pitchers have allowed two runs or fewer in six consecutive games, the longest stretch since a six-game streak from July 10 through July 19, 2010. "He kept some pretty good hitters off balance.''
Homer Bailey (1-1, 3.32 ERA) has contributed a solid outing as well during this run, scattering two singles around a season-high 10 strikeouts in 89 pitches over eight innings Tuesday against Philadelphia. The right-hander, though, had nothing to show for it as the game was suspended in the middle of the ninth tied at zero and eventually won by the Reds the following night.
"When you're on the same page as your catcher, I can kind of sit back and almost go into cruise control, where all I have to think about is executing pitches," Bailey told the Reds' official website. "Being able to go out there and just execute pitches if that's your only mindset makes something very hard a little bit easier. Trying to make pitches is extremely hard."
Bailey, who did not face the Marlins last year, is 1-1 with a 2.84 ERA in four lifetime starts against them.
Marlins counterpart Alex Sanabia (2-1, 4.24) has a similar track record to Bailey in the early part of the season with two strong starts around a terrible one. The right-hander limited Washington to two runs and six hits in six innings of an 8-2 victory on Tuesday and has half of Miami's four wins.
Sanabia has essentially had one bad inning thus far, yielding six of his eight runs in an 8-0 loss to Atlanta on April 10. He has struggled getting the first out of the inning, allowing leadoff hitters to go 8 for 17 thus far.
The Marlins (4-14) have been held to three or fewer runs in 15 of 18 games, partly due to the on-going struggles of slugger Giancarlo Stanton. He had an infield single in six at-bats Saturday, raising his average by a point to .163, and has no RBIs and 17 strikeouts in 12 games.
"He is an unbelievable player. He is going to hit,'' manager Mike Redmond said. "He's our big bat. He's just in a funk and we've got to get him out of it.''
Stanton, who has gone eight games without an extra-base hit, is 1 for 5 lifetime versus Bailey.