Before he headed to the airport and a 10-game road trip that begins tonight in Atlanta, Michael Lorenzen planned to slip out of the Reds clubhouse at Great American Ball Park late Wednesday afternoon and deliver a white tube sock he had stuffed with five baseballs — personal history mementos really — to his mom who had caught a last-minute flight from California into Cincinnati just before the game.
Lorenzen had made his major-league pitching debut against the Milwaukee Brewers and had given up three runs and eight hits in five innings of what ended up an 8-3 Cincinnati loss.
“I’ve got all my baseballs in there so my mom can take ‘em home,” Lorenzen said as he nodded toward the long, lumpy sock that looked like some dozing, overfed snake on a chair next to his dressing stall.
“The first pitch I threw is in there,” he said. “So’s the first out, the first strikeout, my first hit and another ball.”
With a faint smile, he added: “When I got to first base on my hit, I was gonna ask Lind (Brewers first baseman Adam Lind) if I could have the first home run given-up ball, too.”
Lorenzen managed a quiet laugh, then seemed to release the whole day with a shrug and a big exhale.
That’s exactly what catcher Tucker Barnhart had been telling him on a couple of trips to the mound in the second inning, once when Lind hit a 392-foot home run to right-center field and two batters later when Khris Davis did the same, this one a 425-foot launch to straightaway center.
“When I saw him struggling and speeding up a little,” said Barnhart, “I just went out and said, ‘Breathe. Come on, breathe with me. Slow it down. Keep your composure … and just breathe.’”
The 23-year-old Lorenzen was hustled up from Triple-A Louisville to fill in for Homer Bailey, who was put on the 60-day disabled list Wednesday as doctors determine if he’ll need surgery for what is said to be a strained elbow ligament.
Lorenzen has limited minor-league experience, including a nine-game stop in Dayton in 2013, his first year in pro ball. Before that, when he was playing college baseball at Cal State Fullerton, he was known as much for being a good-hitting outfielder as a pitcher.
He was the Titans’ on-the-money-throwing center fielder who was also used as a closer before the Reds made him their second pick in the draft two years ago. He was turned into a reliever, pitched at Double-A Pensacola last season and was 2-1 with a 2.84 earned-run average in Louisville this season before he got the call.
“Today was the first step in learning how to pitch here,” Reds manager Bryan Price said of Lorenzen’s debut. “You can practice all you want in the minor leagues, but it’s a new education when you get here.
“You’ve just got to learn how to handle the emotion, You’ve got adrenaline and nerves and you’re trying to take it all in. There’s a lot on the plate for a young guy coming up making his major-league debut — especially a pitcher.
“You’ve got a new baseball. They pitch with a different ball in Triple-A, so there’s a different feeling in your hand.
“Sure we all want to come out and have this guy throw seven beautiful scoreless innings, but very rarely is that the case. He handled a lot of it wonderfully, but he didn’t establish his off-speed stuff for strikes early in the outing and they were able to sit on the fastballs.
“These are things that will evolve for him. Although he’s been pitching a long time, it hasn’t been as a starter. He did great at every level he pitched in and now he’s in the big leagues and I think he’ll learn here too and be very successful.”
So what did Lorenzen learn Wednesday?
“The biggest thing I learned is that you got to get ahead of guys (in the count),” he said. “And I learned when you miss, they have to be good misses. I missed with Braun (Ryan Braun hit a fifth-inning home run). It was up and he let the whole stadium know I missed.”
As he turned and watched the ball rocket over the wall in right-center, Lorenzen said, “It was like a ‘welcome to the big leagues’ type thing.”
Even with the three long balls he gave up, when Lorenzen exited after the fifth inning he still had the Reds in position to win. They trailed 3-2 and then Cincinnati’s first two relievers — J.J. Hoover and Tony Cingrani — held the Brewers scoreless for two innings.
Next out of the pen was Jumbo Diaz and the only thing big out of him in the eighth was the disappointment.
After he made two fielding miscues and gave up a hit to load the bases, he hit a batter to bring in a run and then gave up a grand slam to Braun.
That five-run inning sealed the Reds’ fate and underscored a glaring problem on this team. Except for closer Aroldis Chapman, the bullpen has no one it can count on day in and day out. Now with Bailey possibly lost for the year and hitting woes plaguing several guys (most notably Marlon Byrd, who struck out three times Wednesday and is batting an anemic .171), this is a team in trouble.
The Reds are 10-11 and the record is more suspect than that. Five of the victories have come against the Brewers, who won just their fifth game in 22 outings.
Now comes a long road trip and the Reds will have to rely on a young kid like Lorenzen.
Both Price and Barnhart said they think he will rise to the occasion.
“I’m looking forward to his next time out,” Barnhart said. “He was competitive today. Especially once he settled down.”
Price said he “didn’t give him any pep talk” before the game:
“You don’t want to change what he’s doing. You want to see what he’s all about. That’s the only way you know what you need to improve on and adjust. You just go out there, be yourself, pitch the way you do and let the hitters tell you what you need to change.
“And today they told him he’s got to be able to utilize his off-speed pitches periodically when he’s in trouble.”