Shelby Miller is not one of the best pitchers the St. Louis Cardinals can send to the mound this season — not with his 8-9 record and his 4.00 earned run average.
That isn’t how he was viewed by the Cincinnati Reds on Monday night in Great American Ball Park. To the Reds, it looked as if Bob Gibson was back in his prime and they knuckled under, 5-0. It was the 14th time the Reds have been shut out this season, the ninth time at home.
Miller, a 6-foot-3, 195-pound Texan, held the Reds to no runs and three hits over seven-plus innings. He left with no outs in the eighth after he gave up a leadoff single to Brandon Phillips, who had two of the three hits off Miller.
All-Star Pat Neshek, a side-armer with a 7-1 record and a 1.35 earned run average in 64 appearances, quickly hosed down the Reds. He got Jay Bruce on a shallow fly to right and coaxed a double-play ball out of Chris Heisey.
Miller was Mr. Economical for his seven innings — no walks and just 81 pitches (54 strikes).
On the other side of the hill, the Reds pitching pattern was a parade from the bullpen that wore a path from left center field to the mound.
It began in the first inning when starter Dylan Axelrod faced one batter, retiring Matt Carpenter. He went to 2-and-2 on Jon Jay and left with a strained right oblique.
Axelrod was the first Reds starting pitcher to retire none or one batter since Don Newcombe didn’t retire anybody in a game at Pittsburgh on July 17, 1960.
Axelrod was replaced by left hander David Holmberg. In two emergency starts this year Holmberg lasted only 2 1/3 innings in both starts and was quickly sent to a safety shelter to avoid harm.
This time he went 5 2/3 innings of no-run, four hit, two-walk baseball, the longest relief outing by a Reds pitcher since Carlos Fisher pitched 5 2/3 innings in Philadelphia on May 25, 2011, a game the Reds lost in 19 innings.
“It helped that I’ve been here the last seven days and I’ve been working on some things with (pitching coach) Jeff Pico,” said Holmberg. “I took it out to the mound and I was confident.”
With Alexrod gone, probably for the season, Holmberg moves back into the rotation and will pitch in Axelrod’s place this weekend in Milwaukee.
“I hope I can go out and pitch like I did tonight and get the team some wins,” he said.
Said manager Bryan Price of Holmberg’s night, “I’m happy for him and one of the reasons we wanted him here in September was to have this opportunity, get a chance to pitch and get comfortable in this environment.
“Every chance he has had to pitch before now has been to come up to the big leagues for one start and then go back to the minor leagues,” Price added. “It was a tough spot for him but he did a great job.”
Holmberg encountered only one difficulity and that was in the fourth inning when it was still 0-0. He gave up a single and two walks to load the bases with one out. But he struck out Yadier Molina and coaxed a pop foul out of Oscar Taveras.
“I didn’t like how Holmberg got into that problem, but I certainly liked the way he got out of it,” said Price. “Jeff Pico and Mack Jenkins (assistant pitching) coach were in the bullpen early today working on his delivery and Pico went out there and helped him get through that inning.”
Said Holmberg, “I kinda lacked concentration in that inning and I had to refocus, get back to the things we were working on — getting everything working toward home plate and keeping the ball down in the zone.
“I’ll be more aggressive, throw my heaters (fastball) and work strikes early in the count in my next starts.
Holmberg turned over the 0-0 tie to Manny Parra in the seventh inning and trouble quickly surfaced. Oscar Taveras doubled, Kolten Wong singled singled to deep short, Miller bunted the runners up a base and Matt Carpenter singled to right field for two runs.
To finish the inning and get the final two outs manager Bryan Price used Sam Lecure, Ryan Dennick and Pedro Villareal — six pitchers in seven innings.
Villareal pitched into the ninth until Matt Holliday lined one off Villareal’s forearm and it ricocheted into short right field. He was replaced by Logan Ondrusek, Cincinnati’s seventh pitcher.
And Ondrusek’s second pitch, a 1-0 fastball to Matt Adams, landed in the right field bleachers, a 433-foot three-run eruption that sealed the deal.
For the game, the Reds had two singles by Phillips and one double by Devin Mesoraco, leading off the fifth when it was 0-0 But Miller got a ground ball from Phillips after he failed to bunt, a fly ball from Bruce and a pop-up from Chris Heisey.
The Reds stranded only one baserunner while the Cardinals piled on with 10 hits and stranded 10 runners — five in the first six innings before they broke through with two runs in the seventh.