By Morris Phillips
SAN FRANCISCO–The Massive Reds Hit Parade–2021’s answer to the Big Red Machine of the mid 70’s–had been rolling along for nearly two weeks, too short of a period to earn a snappier nickname, but long enough to insert sluggers Joey Votto and Jesse Winker into its powerful turbine engines.
But with worldly forces like COVID-19 and the common flu rearing themselves, Votto and Winker found themselves as passengers, not drivers of the formidable offense that leads MLB in batting average, runs scored, slugging percentage and RBI, while merely being tied for the lead in home runs with the Astros at 16.
That pecking order within the Reds machinery changed Monday night at Oracle Park as Winker and Votto hit their initial homers of the season in a 3-0 Cincinnati win. The surprising Reds have nine sluggers with at least one home run, and a total of 18 again only matched the Astros, who also connected twice on Monday.
When asked about the successful adjustments he’s made in his swing, Votto was nonplussed, while expressing disappointment to his season’s start, saying “the ball needs to go over the fence, the ball needs to go in the gap.”
Or into the Cove. Votto’s 400-foot drive off reliever Jarlin Garcia not only increased the Reds’ lead in the sixth, it allowed Votto to become the first Cincinnati slugger to take a ball into McCovey Cove, after 21 seasons of falling short.
Winker struck in the third, taking a slider over the center field wall, as Giants’ pitcher Aaron Sanchez in his Oracle Park debut, declined to turn and watch the ball’s flight.
Sanchez, who was facing the Reds for the first time in his career, didn’t let the Reds’ robust .279 batting average as a team increase, allowing just three hits, but he referenced falling behind in the count, just enough sin to get him beat when facing a dangerous lineup.
“I’ve got to, in a sense, go to them and give them something to hit,” Sanchez said of his encounter with Winker. “That’s what you saw, just a 3-1 pitch over the middle. Off the bat, I didn’t think it was a homer, and it ended up being a homer. It is what it is. It’s the big leagues. You’ve got to stay ahead and get ahead.”
Winker missed much of the Reds’ six-game win streak that ended on Saturday because of a bout with the flu. Votto missed two weeks this spring due to complications with a positive test for COVID. With both healthy, the Reds could continue to pressure the Cubs and Cardinals in the NL Central.
Meanwhile, the Giants continue in the search for a winning formula, after managing just two hits on the evening. Through 10 games, the Giants have pitched and defended at a high level, as well as hit home runs with 14 so far from seven power sources. But the team’s collective batting average of .192–which ranks 29th in MLB–won’t cut it.
“I think we’re the type of offense that sees a lot of pitches, gets pitchers on the ropes, gets big hits and produces big innings,” manager Gabe Kapler said. “We haven’t seen that consistently from our offense this year, but I believe that’s in there with this group.”
The lack of offense Monday fueled veteran pitcher Wade Miley, who worked fast, experienced little resistance, and picked up the win. The 34-year old needed just 73 pitches to complete five innings, as he admitted his cut fastball was below average and vulnerable, but more than made up for it with changeups that induced seven swings and misses.
Tejay Antone followed with 3 2/3 innings of hitless relief in which he refused to give Giants hitters anything they could elevate. Antone appears poised to backup his 2020 rookie season in which he was among the rookie leaders in strikeouts and innings pitched.
The Giants have little time to regroup with Kevin Gausman set to face Cincinnati’s Luis Castillo on Tuesday.