Reds’ bullpen paying dividends entering opener vs. Royals

MLB Kansas City

After spending most of the first half of the season struggling as the leakiest bullpen in baseball, the Cincinnati Reds will take one of the majors’ hottest relief corps on the road to begin a three-game series against the Kansas City Royals.

The Reds recorded 10 1/3 innings of scoreless relief to complete a three-game sweep of the reeling Chicago Cubs over the weekend.

Cincinnati relievers entered the weekend with an ERA of 5.40, the worst such mark in the majors. The Reds appeared to be in further trouble last week when Lucas Sims joined fellow right-hander Tejay Antone on the 10-day injured list, both suffering from tightness in their throwing arms.

But the group of Heath Hembree, Art Warren, Brad Brach, Sean Doolittle, Amir Garrett and Ryan Hendrix shut down the Cubs for three consecutive one-run wins. The Reds are 15-9 in one-run games.

“It’s just taken a little bit of time to have everybody hit their stride. It’s been such a key for us here, especially in this series,” Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart said after Sunday’s second straight 3-2 win. “We’ve had to lean on them, and hopefully everything kind of keeps going the way it’s going. We’ve been playing great baseball.

“This series was phenomenal. It was a fun series to be a part of. … There were no games that you felt like got out of hand at all. We’ve got to keep playing ball and keep winning.”

The Royals, on the other hand, are 10-15 in their 25 games decided by one run.

Kansas City enters Monday’s series opener against Cincinnati as a loser of 10 of its past 12 games. The Royals’ 6-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins on Sunday ended their modest two-game win streak.

The Royals did get encouraging news over the weekend as outfielder Andrew Benintendi was activated off the 10-day injured list. Benintendi missed 16 games with a right-rib fracture before his activation Sunday. He started in left field and batted second against the Twins on Sunday, going 0-for-3 with two strikeouts.

Royals manager Mike Matheny said Benintendi lobbied hard to be activated when the club got back to Kansas City.

“I think he was almost surprised at how quickly he turned the corner when he did,” Matheny said. “And it’s like, ‘OK, I’m ready. Let’s get this thing moving.’ What I saw (Saturday) looked like his normal swing, so that was certainly part of the equation.”

The Royals hope Benintendi’s return to the top of the lineup gives them an extra spark.

Cincinnati will start rookie right-hander Vladimir Gutierrez (3-3, 4.93 ERA) against Kansas City lefty Mike Minor (6-6, 5.33).

Gutierrez will make his eighth major-league appearance, his first against an American League team.

In Wednesday’s rain-shortened 7-5 loss against the San Diego Padres, Gutierrez exited with a 5-3 lead before being charged with three more runs on Trent Grisham’s grand slam off reliever Josh Osich.

Minor will make his 18th start of the season in the series opener.

Minor allowed five runs on seven hits and two walks in five innings in the Royals’ 6-2 loss to the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday. He is 1-3 with an 8.06 ERA in his past four starts.

Minor is facing the Reds for the first time since June 15, 2019, when he earned the win after allowing three runs on four hits — including two homers — and four walks in 6 1/3 innings. In five career starts vs. Cincinnati, Minor is 3-1 with a 2.91 ERA.

–Field Level Media

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