It isn’t often that Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker talks about the degree of difficulty his team will face against that night’s opposing pitcher before a game.
But that’s what Baker did in the early afternoon Tuesday before batting practice, before 24-year-old Arizona Diamondbacks left hander Patrick Corbin even put on his uniform.
“We’re facing one of the best pitchers in our league, so tonight is a big test,” said Baker. “This guys is definitely one of the best.”
The Reds flunked the test miserably, losing 5-2 — and through seven innings they had no runs and only four hits off Corbin.
To make the night an even bigger bust, Reds starter Tony Cingrani left the game in the fourth inning with a back strain.
The back pain has lingered with him for a while, but he didn’t tell anybody, and he said after Tuesday’s game, “It hurt more than it has, but I could have pitched through it. They didn’t want me to try it.”
Said Baker, “We were surprised because of the way he was throwing the ball, as well as he has thrown all year. For him to say something it had to be pretty serious. It shocked us all. He said it has been bothering him off and on for the last couple of weeks, but he didn’t tell anybody. Kids want to stay in the rotation and stay in the big leagues.”
Cingrani was adamant that it wasn’t serious and went so far as to say, “I’m pitching in my next outing, that’s for sure, it’s not bad. It was precautionary that they took me out of the game.”
Corbin began the game with a 12-3 record and a 2.48 earned run average and lived up to Baker’s warning. He is devastating to lefthanders. Shin-Soo Choo, Joey Votto and Jay Bruce were 0 for 12 with seven strikeouts.
In one year he has found an extra two to three miles an hour on his fastball after he was 4-6 with a 4.54 ERA last year. Corbin, a second-round draft pick by the Angels in 2009, was part of a big trade in 2010 — and he was considered a throw-in.
The Diamondbacks sent pitcher Dan Haren to the Angels for established pitcher Joe Saunders, top prospect Tyler Skaggs, pitcher Rafael Rodriguez and Corbin. Skaggs was The Main Man in the deal but Corbin has emerged as the best of the crop.
Baker had hoped his own left hander, Tony Cingrani, also one of the best pitchers in the league, could match Corbin pitch for pitch.
And he did just that for 3 1/3 innings — 10 up and 10 down. But he gave up a one-out home run to Martin Prado, a walk to Paul Goldschmidt and a double to Aaron Hill.
Something was amiss. When pitching coach Bryan Price went to the mound for a conference, he quickly summoned trainer Paul Lessard from the dugout. Cingrani left with a back strain.
Corbin retired the first six Reds before Devin Mesoraco led the third with a single. He didn’t advance beyond second base.
Todd Frazier led the fourth with a single and advanced to third on a pair of ground balls but wilted there when Jay Bruce struck out.
Singles by Brandon Phillips and Ryan Ludwick put runners on first and third with two outs in the seventh but Mesoraco popped to short on the first pitch and it remained 1-0 through seven.
It all came unraveled, unglued and non-retrievable in the eighth when the league’s leading RBI man, first baseman Paul Goldschmidt, crushed a grand slam off J.J. Hoover.
It was his third grand slam this season, the first Arizona player to do that, and his league-leading RBI total to an even 100.
Sam LeCure started the eighth and struck out Cliff Pennington. But pitcher Corbin, A.J. Pollock and Martin Prado all singled to load the bases.
Goldschmidt held up on a couple of checked swings until he worked Hoover to a 3-and-2 count and then reversed a heart-of-the-plate fastball into the left field seats for a 5-0 lead.
Said Hoover, who hadn’t given up a run in 26 1/3 innings over 23 appearances, “I left the pitch up in the zone. I faced Goldy a bunch of times in the minors and I know you can’t leave that pitch up there, especially on a 3-and-2 count.”
Baker said the one-out single by pitcher Corbin to start the rally was the wrist-breaker.
“What really hurt was that 0-and-2 hit by the pitcher,” said Baker. “Then they found a couple of holes. We were hoping to get a double play ball out of Martin Prado because he has hit into 21 double plays this year, but he rolled one through the infield (to fill the bases).
“Then we had to bring in Hoover to face one of the most dangerous hitters in the league in Goldschmidt, who right now is probably the front-runner for MVP,” Baker added. “He’s a guy who knows what to do, how to drive in runs. I’m sure Hoover would like that pitch back because it was right down the middle. And he didn’t miss it.”
The Reds broke through against Corbin in the eighth inning when Zack Cozart singled and defensive replacement Chris Heisey drilled a home run — too little, too late.