The Reds ended the 2016 season in a faint glow of rosy optimism fueled by going 36-37 after the All-Star break, a vast improvement over the 32-57 pre-break record.
That was a .493 winning percentage nearly matched by the .443 mark put together before this season’s All-Star Game, the product of a 39-49 record that seemed miraculous considering the disastrous starting pitching.
Sustaining that level of performance – never mind improving on it – has proven difficult for the Reds in the mythical second half of the season. Cincinnati went into Wednesday’s game against San Diego 7-18 since the All-Star Game and needed to go 22-27 over the remaining 49 games just to match last season’s total of 68 wins.
They got off on the right foot. Asher Wojciechowski pitched five shutout innings before wilting in the sixth and beat out a one-hopper to right field for his first career hit and Stuart Turner’s first career home run – a two-run line drive deep into the upper deck in left field – was the biggest blow of an offensive eruption as the Reds never trailed in an 8-3 win over San Diego.
“It could’ve been a wall-scraper and I would’ve taken it,” Turner said of his 434-foot blast. “It doesn’t matter. (Hitting coach) Don Long was chuckling while I was in the hole. He was telling me I was close – not to a home run, but with my swing. I got to 2-0 and got a pitch to drive and I didn’t miss it.”
Wojciechowski had to hustle to beat right fielder Hunter Renfroe’s peg to first base.
“It was great to get the first hit out of the way,” the rookie right-hander said. “I hit it harder than I thought, and I got out of the box slow. I thought he might try to throw me out, and when he looked at the first baseman, I knew I had to turn it on.”
Eugenio Suarez, who had one hit in his previous 13 at bats going into the game also smacked a two-run homer in the third, and Jose Peraza, hitting .378 over his previous 12 games, drove in three runs with two singles to help the Reds guarantee a split in the series.
Wojciechowski (3-1) took over the lead in wins among the eight rookies who have started games for the Reds this season. He matched his career high with six strikeouts before giving up four hits and three runs while getting two outs in the sixth.
“I was able to throw my slider for first-pitch strikes and put guys away with it,” Wojciechowski said. “I had good fastball command and mixed in a few changeups.”
“He was spot on,” manager Bryan Price said. “He was very sharp – had the three-pitch mix going. He was in attack mode and took advantage of us getting the early lead.”
Rookie reliever Wandy Peralta also has three wins and leads the team with 51 appearances after pitching a scoreless eighth on Wednesday.
Joey Votto had two hits, including a first-inning double off the left-center field wall that sparked a two-out, two-run rally, to extend his hitting streak to 14 games (21-44, .477), breaking a tie with Peraza for the longest on the team this season. Votto’s career-best hitting streak is 17 games, set last season.