CINCINNATI — Succinctly said and true to the bone: “This is the end of a bad week.”
Bad? Bad to the bone. Bad day at Black Rock. As bad as it gets.
The speaker was Cincinnati Reds manager Dusty Baker after his team snatched defeat from the teeth of victory — again. And again it was perpetrated by the once invisible Aroldis Chapman.
For the third time in six appearances, Chapman not only blew a save, he lost the game. After Joey Votto’s two-run homer in the eighth gave the Reds a 3-2 lead, Chapman gave up a two-run home run to Josh Willingham in the ninth for a 4-3 Minnesota Twins victory.
That left the Reds with five losses in their last six games, all interleague — three straight in Cleveland and two of three to thre Twins in Great American Ball Park.
After striking out the first batter in the ninth, Chapman battled Joe Mauer for 10 pitches, the last one crashed off the left field wall for a double. Then he fell behind Willingham 3-and-1 and the next pitch was hit so hard and so far it earned Willingham bonus frequent flyer miles.
MIKE LEAKE STARTED and needed only 86 pitches to travel eight innings, giving up two runs, five hits, no walks and striking out five. But Baker opted to go with his closer.
As somebody pointed out, the outcome was one of baseball’s easiest second-guess — seen after the fact. Shouldn’t have Baker left in his breezing right hander (Leake) and ignored his troubled left hander (Chapman)?
“Leake had just come off 112 pitches last time, the most he had ever thrown,” said Baker. “Everybody has a job to do. If I send Leake out and he gives it up, I have a real problem.
“Do people realize who the hitters coming up there were against Leake?” Baker asked. “Mauer, Willingham, Morneau — and that’s the fourth time he would have faced them. That’s enough. He did his job.”
And Baker was quick to defend Chapman and admit his closer’s confidence has to be wobbly.
“It (confidence) has to be down from being not hit at all to being hit,” he said. “He’s human, you know? A week ago we wouldn’t even be talking about this.
“It’s easy now to say, ‘Get somebody else to close,’ but where is somebody else who is better? This guy was the darling of baseball. Until this week. And how soon everybody forgets. What would people say if I left Leake out there and I had a fresh Chapman who hadn’t thrown for a couple of days? If we don’t win a ballgame, everything is always left up for discussion.”
ZACK COZART WAS given a spectator’s seat in the dugout Sunday afternoon, a day of rest.
And before anybody asks, “Why, why, why, the kid is only 26 years old,” consider first that he has played 67 of the first 70 games and listen to what he says about it.
“I don’t get to choose when I have days off, but (manager) Dusty Baker has been good at picking the days, not so much physically because I feel great, but mentally,” said Cozart. “Sometimes you need a mental break, just like in New York when he gave me one day off because I was struggling on the road.
“And there have been a couple of days at home where I haven’t swung the bat the way I want to and mental breaks help,” he added. “It also gets other guys playing time that they need to stay sharp and baseball is such a tough game you need a break mentally more than physically.”
Said Baker, “Zack has played a lot and there probably aren’t any rookie shortstops who have played as much as Zack. I have to keep him strong. I saw him dragging a little bit Saturday. You see that, you give them a day off. Plus we are only in game two of 17 in a row after we just played 20 in a row. We’re going to need everybody. We’re doing everything we can right now to keep our guys healthy and strong into the All-Star break.”
TODD FRAZIER WAS back at third base Sunday as Scott Rolen was given the day off. Since Rolen returned to the lineup, Frazier was the designated hitter in Cleveland and played left field and was out of the lineup for a game.
Baker was asked if it takes a special player to do what Frazier is doing and not have it affect his play, especially offense.
“When your No. 1 strength is your bat, like Frazier, moving around doesn’t affect you that much,” said Baker. “Marginal guys it might. When you are in your in your strong suit, nothing affects that. If your strong suit is picking it (defense) then if you strike out you are still going to go out there and pick it.
“So, no, I’m not surprised and Todd is still learning to hit,” Baker added. “He’s unorthodox in his style, but Stan Musial was, too, and they told him he’d never hit like that (.331 career average, 475 home runs).
IT SHOULD BE no surprise to anybody that Scott Rolen deked the Twins Saturday to score a run on a safety squeeze bunt. He wandered down the line just far enough, hesitated until Johnny Cueto put down the bunt, then broke for home when the throw went to first base.
Rolen is so good on the basepaths that Baker has him teach it during spring training.
“Sometimes when you hear a different voice than the manager and coaches and hear it from a peer it hits part of the ear that coaches and managers don’t find,” said Baker. “He gave a great dissertation on how it is their job to get to the next base, which is what baserunning is all about.
“You have to want to be a good baserunner, know where everybody is playing on the field, know which guys move in or move over on two strikes, know which guys charge the ball and which guys lay back on the ball, the arm strength and accuracy of arms,” said Baker. “You put all that into the equation and Scotty talks about that stuff.”
GOLD GLOVE second baseman Brandon Phillip’s newest thing is taking a lot of ground balls barehanded, shunning the use of his glove. So far he hasn’t messed up a single one. He barehanded a ball Sunday deflected by pitcher Mike Leake and threw a guy out at home.
Maybe Phillips will be named the first winner of the Gold Hand.
MANAGER/COMEDIAN Ron Gardenhire, now managing the Minnesota Twins, was not known for his hitting as a major-league player with the New York Mets.
As he tells the story, Mets General Manager Frank Cashen told hitting coach Frank Howard, “You teach Gardenhire how to be a hitter or die trying.”
Gardenhire said Howard later told him, “You had me on my deathbed.”
The Twins may be in last place in the American League Central, but one has to give him props for how he handles his team.
During the National Anthem and during the singing of God Bless America, Gardenhire’s entire team comes out of the dugout and lines up on the grass close to the foul line. That’s class, first class.
QUOTE OF THE DAY: Former major-leaguer Sarge Matthews with some prophetic words to Dusty Baker, the first time he saw Sean Casey in the minors: “This kid can hit, he can really hit. He doesn’t know where it’s going, but he can really hit.”Tweet