David Bell almost made it six full innings before his first tough managing decision blew up in his face Thursday.
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The first-year Cincinnati Reds manager had young Luis Castillo, the potential ace of a heavily revamped starting staff, dominating the Pittsburgh Pirates on Opening Day, but his pitch count was inching up.
So after Josh Bell lined a single to right field, Bell pulled the plug.
The 91 pitches Castillo had thrown (at this early part of the season) said it was time to make a change, but the two hits the Pirates had managed screamed, “Let the kid keep going.”
Bell chose the former, and two batters later the game was tied when Jung Ho Kang hit a two-run single to left off normally reliable Jared Hughes to put the Pirates on top 2-1.
“It’s a little bit of a feel this early in the season,” David Bell said of pulling Castillo. “What a great game he pitched, and I’m so happy for him. He was getting close. He hadn’t been to that point other than one time in spring training. We thought he was going to finish that inning and that would have been it, but they got a base-runner and it felt like the right move. We trust our bullpen so much, and he did a good job and I’m happy for him.”
That would turn out to be far from the last tough decision the new Reds manager had to make.
After Jose Peraza got Hughes off the hook with a leadoff homer in the bottom of the seventh, Derek Dietrich made his manager look smart by choosing him to pinch hit.
Dietrich, a Cleveland St. Ignatius grad making his Reds debut, crushed a go-ahead 3-run homer over the fence in right field.
That gave the Reds a 5-2 lead, but it would be a rough ride to the finish for Bell and the regular-season record 44,049 fans in the stands at Great American Ball Park.
Bell showed he is not afraid to think outside the box in the eighth inning when he put relief pitcher Michael Lorenzen in center field (he had entered as a pinch runner in the seventh) and called Raisel Iglesias from the bullpen.
Iglesias was the team’s closer last season, but Bell was not content to wait until the ninth inning to call upon him in the eighth to face the Nos. 3, 4 and 5 hitters in the Pittsburgh lineup.
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Although Corey Dickerson led off with a home run, Iglesias retired the next three to end the inning.
Bell confirmed the plan was for Iglesias to finish the game, but it didn’t work out like that.
Not sharp in the ninth, he walked JB Shuck and Colin Moran around a popup by Erik Gonzalez.
That was it for Iglesias, who was replaced by lefty Amir Garrett, who energized the crowd with a strikeout of left-handed-hitting Adam Frazier to move the Reds within one out of their first Opening Day win since 2016.
Bell, though, lifted Garrett and put the ball in the hands of righty David Hernandez, who made his new manager and the Reds faithful sweat a little more by walking right-handed hitter Pablo Reyes.
And so it came down again to Dickerson, a left-handed hitter who battled Hernandez for 12 pitches before pulling a ground ball through the right side of infield.
It would have been in the hole for a game-tying hit against a traditional defensive alignment, but instead went right to second baseman Jose Peraza, who had been positioned in shallow right field while shortstop Jose Iglesias lined up behind second base.
That was one last managerial move paying off for Bell.
“It’s different than in spring training for sure,” Bell said. “You try to be prepared, try to think through all the scenarios and no matter how many you think through, there’s always going to be new ones that pop up and then you respond. Then in the end it’s the players who are doing the job and that’s exactly what happened today.”
All in the life of a major-league manager doing it for the first time in his hometown on the day they were celebrating the 150th anniversary of the first professional baseball franchise.
No big deal, right?
“You try to trick yourself into thinking it’s just one game, but it’s not,” said the Cincinnati Moeller grad whose father Buddy, and grandfather, Gus, both played for the Reds. “It’s special. It’s a special day to the city and to this organization. It’s nice to get a win and get started off on the right foot.”
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