Bullpens are funny things. Or irritating. Certainly unpredictable. The Reds had one of the best relief corps in the majors last season and they were deep enough that many believed Aroldis Chapman should have been moved into the rotation. Chapman has been dominant in the ninth inning, but Dusty Baker's refusal to use him in anything but three-out bursts (Chapman has pitched once in the eighth inning all season, in a game the Reds were losing by three runs, and has never pitched more than one inning) means the Reds still need others to get through the eighth.
But Jonathan Broxton has been inconsistent (4.33 ERA), J.J. Hoover is 0-5 and Sean Marshall is on the disabled list. The Reds' 3.81 bullpen ERA is 16th in the majors, but their 14 relief losses are tied for second-most and the Reds have lost six games they've led heading into the eighth inning after losing seven all of 2012.
Baker may have found a solution to his eighth-inning woes, however: Rookie left-hander Tony Cingrani, who pitched his first game in relief in Monday's 4-1 win over the Pirates. Entering in the eighth with a 2-1 lead and a runner on, Cingrani fell behind pinch-hitter Gaby Sanchez 3-0 but recovered to get him looking on a 95-mph fastball. He had Russell Martin struck out on a fastball at the knees, but the ump missed the call and Martin eventually walked, Cingrani visibly upset. Catcher Devin Mesoraco settled Cingrani and he blew away Pedro Alvarez to escape the jam.
With Johnny Cueto back and Mike Leake pitching better than ever (he's allowed seven runs over his past seven starts, there isn't room for Cingrani in the rotation. Cingrani may not be a perfect solution -- while he's crushed left-handers, righties have hit eight home runs off him in 103 at-bats although they've hit just .204 off him overall -- but right now he looks like a better late-inning option than Broxton. It will be interesting to see how Baker ends up using the rookie, trying to match him up primarily against lefties or extending his responsibilities.
The Pirates and Reds have three more games in the series and with Charlie Morton pitching Tuesday and Brandon Cumpton on Thursday for Pittsburgh, it's a good opportunity for the Reds to put a little room between themselves and the Pirates.