Homer Bailey has taken a turn for the Reds — in the wrong direction

Homer Bailey was Cincinnati’s best starting pitcher while the rest of the team was stumbling out of the gate to a 3-18 start.

The veteran Reds right-hander was 0-3 through his first five starts after a 4-3 loss at St. Louis on April 21, but he had a respectable 3.68 earned-run average and had delivered several win-worthy starts.

As the rest of the Reds started turning things around, so did Bailey – but in the wrong direction. Over his most recent five starts, the Texan has allowed 41 hits and 24 earned runs in 23 2/3 innings. That adds up to a 9.13 ERA – all while the Reds were going 12-15.

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Against Chicago in Friday’s opener of a four-game series, Bailey allowed 10 hits in five or fewer innings for the second straight start and matched his season high by giving up six earned runs – three on five straight Cubs hits to open the game.

“I know there’s nothing physical there, not with his arm, anyway,” said interim manager Jim Riggleman. “He’s just got to figure it out. I felt like the first three or four starts, he was really pretty good. It’s been the starts since then that he’s been getting hit.”

Bailey, who agreed in February 2014 to a six-year, $105 million contract with a $25 million mutual option for 2020 and a $5 million buyout, was limited to 26 starts from 2015 through 2017 by three surgical procedures. He started on Opening Day for the first time this season, and opposing batters had combined .218 average against him over his first five starts. That average skyrocketed to .285 going into Friday’s game.

“It’s tough on me,” said Bailey, who is 67-69 in his career, after the game. “I know it’s tough on the coaches and (catcher) Tucker (Barnhart) and everybody else. They definitely expect me to do a little better. It’s the middle of May. We still have a long time to go. I feel like it’s just a matter of time before things really start clicking and we get on a really hot streak.”

Bullpen bailout: Riggleman called upon right-hander Jackson Stephens to get the final out of the fifth on Friday. Stephens added three more innings to his effort, leaving him with a single-game career-high in relief innings and the team high for relief innings.

“He really saved us,” Riggleman said. “With the doubleheader (Saturday) and then the ballgame the next day, we needed to use as few guys as possible. Jackson giving us three-plus there really helped. It was a good effort.”

To be on the safe side, the Reds took advantage of the rule allowing teams playing doubleheaders to add a pitcher as a 26th man for a day. They added right-hander Kevin Shackelford to the bullpen.

Fake news: Shackelford's promotion prompted relief pitcher Jared Hughes to share a personal accomplishment.

“Hey, guys,” the outgoing right-hander said to a group of writers standing in the clubhouse. “First 26th man? Me.”

Hughes was in the Pirates organization in 2012 when he was recalled from Triple-A Indianapolis for a doubleheader against Colorado in Pittsburgh. The Rockies also added a pitcher, but Hughes believed himself to be the first 26th man to actually appear in a game.

“I’d been sent down four days before,” he recalled. “I caught a flight out the night before and flew back that night.

“I hope I have a plaque in Cooperstown or something.”

A few minutes later, Hughes looked up from his cellphone and apologetically reported that Google revealed that the New York Mets’ Jeremy Hafner was the actual first 26thman.

“Well, at least I was the first for the Pirates,” he said. “A fake news machine right here. Be careful.”

Bye-bye, Cubs: Right-hander Tyler Mahle (3-5), who allowed one hit with two talks and seven strikeouts in six innings of Cincinnati's 1-0 win over Chicago on April 2, is Cincinnati's scheduled starter in Sunday's 1:10 p.m. series finale. Right-hander Yu Darvish (0-3) is the Cubs' projected starter.