Gray threw 92 pitches through five innings and had a 2-1 lead. Bell permitted him to try to stay the course.
Gray gave up three hits and a run in the sixth before he was pulled with the game tied at 2.
Then came Michael Lorenzen and the rest of the ‘Firestarters.’ Lorenzen (16.88 ERA) and Cody Reed (10.80 ERA) were downright awful during what turned into a six-run inning.
Lorenzen has given up runs in six of his seven appearances this year. On Sunday he faced four hitters and gave up a single and three walks, twice forcing in runs with walks.
Both those runs were charged to Gray, making him the losing pitcher, his first after three wins to start the season.
“I felt good, had energy, was ready for the start,” said Gray, who was charged with four runs, his 37th straight start of giving up four runs or less. “But you could tell from the first hitter of the game that something was off.
“I was battling from hitter one, two walks in the first,” he added. “I had to battle and it finally caught up to me in the sixth. Actually I thought I made some decent pitches in the sixth. It just finally caught up to me.
“After I gave up a couple of hits in the sixth it kind of snowballed on us.”
Snowballed? It was an avalanche.
Both pitchers, and most of the hitters, struggled all day with the mysterious strike zone of rookie umpire Erich Bacchus.
The Reds struck for a run in the first when Woodruff, scrooge-stingy with walks, walked two. That enabled Jesse Winker to poke a run-scoring single to left against Milwaukee’s overshifted defense to the right.
Gray retired the first two in the the third before Keston Hiura singled, Milwaukee’s first hit, and Christian Yelich tripled him home to tie it, 1-1.
The lead lasted only until Winker set foot in the batter’s box to start the fourth. He reversed a Woodruff change-up and it crashed landed in the right-field seats. It was Winker’s first home run and gave Gray a 2-1 lead.
Winker drove in two Reds runs with three hits after getting two hits Saturday. His 5-for-27 start to the season drew heavy criticsim to Bell for continuing to scribble Winker’s name on his line-up cards.
Gray loaded the bases in the fourth on a single, an error by third baseman Eugenio Suarez and a hit batsman. He escaped, though, when Eric Sogard grounded to second.
Despite the high-leverge fourth and a ballooning pitch count, Gray went back out for the fifth and issued a one-out walk, but struck out the next two.
Bell put full trust in Gray by sending him back out for the sixth.
And it failed.
Gray gave up three hits to the lower portion of the Brewers order. Justin Smoak led with a double to the right field corner. With one out, No. 8 hitter Mark Mathias singled and No. 9 hitter Manny Pina singled home a run.
That ended Gray’s day and left runners on third and first with one out for relief pitcher Michael Lorenzen. He walked Sogard on four wild fast balls to fill the bases.
The next pitch, the first pitch to Hiura was pulled into left field for a run and a 3-2 Brewers lead. Then he walked Yelich on a full count to force in another run and it was 4-2.
The walk-a-thon continued with Logan Morrison, a five-pitch walk, all balls (umpire Bacchus called a 3-and-0 pitch a strike when it was both high and inside.
It was 5-2 and Lorenzen’s very short day was over.
Reed replaced Lorenzen and recorded an out, then gave up a two-run single to Sogard, his second hit of the inning, and a 7-2 Milwaukee lead.
Joe Kuhnel, called up before the game as the Reds search for bullpen production, gave up back-to-back home runs in the seventh to Hiura and Yelich to make it 9-2.
The Reds played without Mike Moustakas, placed on the injured list before the game, and without Nick Senzel, who missed games for the third different time this young season.
After their first off day Monday, the Reds open a two-game interleague series Tuesday in Great American Ball Park against the Kansas City Royals.