Reds reliever Hughes: ‘Winning is contagious’

Veteran pitcher leads bullpen with 1.36 ERA

The famous scene from the “The Natural” in which a sports psychologist counsels the New York Knights seemed relevant for the Cincinnati Reds in April and May.

Losing was a disease for the Knights until Roy Hobbs got a chance. For the Reds, it’s harder to pinpoint one moment when they started to distance themselves from the worst teams of all time — Eugenio Suarez doesn’t have a “Wonder Boy” bat to account for all those RBIs, as far as we know — but they are 24-18 since an 8-27 start.

After 10 wins in the last 12 games, a season-best seven in a row and the first four-game sweep of the Chicago Cubs in Cincinnati since 1983, the Reds (32-45) and their fans are feeling better than ever about 2018. They may not challenge for a postseason berth — they're still 13 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the National League Central Division — but they could escape last place. That's the short-term goal for now.

"Winning is contagious, and it's a game of momentum," reliever Jared Hughes said before an 8-6 victory Sunday at Great American Ball Park, "so coming into the clubhouse on a day like today when we've won the series and we're looking for the sweep, it is a very positive feeling, and we do believe we can go out there and get it."

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Hughes, 32, has played a big part in helping the Reds turn the corner. He’s 2-2 with a 1.36 ERA in 34 relief appearances and 39 2/3 innings. He has five saves in six opportunities. Reds relievers have allowed 28 home runs, but Hughes has allowed only one and none in his last 30 2/3 innings.

Of relievers who have thrown at least 39 innings, he has the second-best ERA in baseball, trailing only the Brewers’ Josh Hader (1.13 ERA in 39 2/3 innings).

If Hughes continues on his current pace, this will be a career year for him. He was 7-5 with a 1.96 ERA in 63 appearances for the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2014. He pitched six seasons for the Pirates before signing as a free agent with the Brewers in 2017. Last season, he was 5-3 with a 3.02 ERA in 67 games.

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The Reds signed Hughes in December to add a veteran presence to the bullpen, and he has delivered everything they hoped he would.

“I’m always looking to go out there and have success,” Hughes said. “I wish we were having better success in terms of our overall record and winning more. Things do look good right now. Recently, we have won a lot. Let’s keep it going. That’s the plan: every day showing up ready to win.”

Hughes deflected praise, giving all the credit to his teammates.

“In terms of the way I’ve pitched, a lot of it has to do with Tucker (Barnhart) behind the dish,” Hughes said. “He is such a good pitch-caller. I feel like he is the most prepared catcher I have every thrown to — the way he studies hitters. His overall knowledge of what needs to happen next in the at-bat is outstanding. I trust him a lot, and of course, I’m a contact pitcher, so the defense has just been huge.”


Reds at Braves, 7:35 p.m., FS Ohio, 700, 1410

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