Cincinnati Reds: Don’t overlook defense in first two wins over Astros

There’s no question that banging three home runs against Justin Verlander was a huge factor in Cincinnati’s 4-3 win over the Houston Astros on Tuesday.

The win was the Reds’ second by one run over the American League West Division leaders, and they didn’t trail in either game. One key to being able to hold off Houston was defense.

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In the fourth inning of Monday’s 3-2 win, the Astros loaded the bases with one out on a single and two walks. But starting pitcher Luis Castillo escaped when second baseman Kyle Farmer made a diving stop on Tyler White’s hot grounder up the middle, scrambled to his feet, ran and stepped on second before throwing to first baseman Joey Votto to complete the inning-ending double play.

“It was a huge moment,” Castillo said. “I think that’s where we won the game.”

The Reds scored three in the fifth, but the lead was cut to one on Michael Brantley’s double down the right-field line. Pinch-hitter Jake Marisnick scored from second, but speedy Alex Bregman was held at third out of respect for the arm of right fielder Yasiel Puig. Yordan Alvarez flied out to Puig to end the threat.

“The reputation there is real,” Reds manager David Bell said. “There are plays where I see the runner and he’s way too far ahead and Yasiel’s way too far out there to get a throw. It’s that. It has that much life – that much carry on it. It makes it tough to coach third base. I’d hate to coach third against him.”

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The next night, the Reds turned inning-ending double plays in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings, none more crucial than the last. Yuli Gurriel flied out to center fielder Nick Senzel with one out, and Alvarez was ruled safe at third while trying to tag and advance on the play. The Reds challenged and the replay showed Alvarez had come off the bag with third baseman Eugenio Suarez still applying the tag. Alvarez was out, ending the threat.

Suarez also made a leaping catch of Robinson Chirinos’s line drive, interrupting its trip into the left field corner that almost surely would have resulted in a leadoff double in the seventh inning.

They all contributed to a three-game winning streak against the top two teams in the AL West. The Reds beat the Texas Rangers, 11-3, on Sunday.

The Reds went into Wednesday’s series finale against Houston with a .987 team fielding percentage, tied with Colorado for second in the National League.

“We’ve been talking about getting on a roll, but what I’m seeing is a level of expectation and determination to win games,” Bell said. “We’ve come together as a team for a while now, and playing against these really good teams, I’ve seen us respond with that extra level of whatever it takes to do everything it takes to win a game. That’s been really fun to be a part of.”

Day off: First baseman Joey Votto's absence from Wednesday's starting lineup was a simple day off, Bell said before the game. Not starting Wednesday combined with days off next Monday and Thursday should help keep the 35-year-old fresh for the stretch of nine games in 10 days leading up to the All-Star break.

“We want to make sure he’s good,” Bell said, mentioning Votto’s previous minor hamstring and back problems. “He probably would’ve gotten this day (off) anyway.”

Votto hit .370 with seven doubles, two home runs and eight runs batted in over his last 19 games before Wednesday.

Welcome back: The Reds reinstated shortstop Jose Iglesias from the three-day paternity leave list and optioned infielder-outfielder Josh VanMeter to Triple-A Louisville on Wednesday. VanMeter hit .220 in 28 games after being promoted from Louisville on May 5.

The move meant outfielder Phillip Ervin avoided – at least for the time being – a fourth demotion to Louisville.

“They bring two different things,” Bell said “We would like to have kept both. Josh wasn’t getting a lot of at bats. We anticipate Phillip will be getting a lot of time against left-handed starters.”

Ervin went into Wednesday’s game hitting .217 in 14 games.

Soggy starts: Wednesday's game was the fourth straight and ninth in 36 home games to be delayed this season. The previous eight consumed 10 hours, 38 minutes, including the 18-minute bee delay before a game against San Francisco on May 6. The delay time also includes the 40 minutes before the game against Pittsburgh on April 30 was postponed and played as part of a Memorial Day day-night doubleheader on May 27.

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