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Greene finds his footing as Reds finish .500 trip

SAN FRANCISCO – August 30, 2023 – Story by: Sonja Chen –

When Hunter Greene was sidelined with right hip pain for two months, his presence in the Reds’ rotation was sorely missed. But it hasn’t been a walk in the park since he returned on Aug. 20, as he allowed an unsightly 14 runs (13 earned) across 6 2/3 innings in his first two starts.

Greene took a step forward as Cincinnati beat San Francisco, 4-1, on Wednesday afternoon at Oracle Park, salvaging the series finale to close out the three-city West Coast swing with a 5-5 record.

If the Reds want to set themselves apart from the other three teams within three games of the final National League Wild Card spot, a resurgent Greene will go a long way. The 24-year-old righty held the Giants to a run on three hits over 5 1/3 innings, helping Cincinnati inch within a game back of the third spot, pending the final standings after Wednesday’s games.

After facing just two over the minimum through his first five innings, Greene left runners on the corners with one out in the sixth. The run charged to him was unearned, having scored on right-hander Ian Gibaut’s errant pickoff attempt shortly thereafter.

Greene felt ill after he departed the game and was not available for comment, as he left the clubhouse earlier in order to keep the rest of the team healthy.

“Hunter missed a lot of the season,” manager David Bell said. “He expects himself to pitch well right out of the gate. But he had to work through some things his first two starts.”

The differences between Greene’s first two starts off the injured list and his third were stark. His command was much improved on Wednesday, as he punched out six against just one walk. In his two previous starts, Greene had combined for as many walks as strikeouts with eight apiece.

Greene also leaned heavily on his slider, throwing it 45 times for 50 percent of his pitches. It’s the third time in 17 starts this season that Greene has thrown his slider more than his four-seamer, and he got 10 of his 12 whiffs with the offering.

“He threw his slider for strikes, got ahead and stayed ahead, and then they went to some pretty nasty guys in their bullpen,” Giants manager Gabe Kapler said. “They shut us down.”

On the other side of the ball, the Reds struck first for the first time this series, pulling off a crafty double steal that saw Elly De La Cruz take second before Spencer Steer swiped home in the top of the sixth inning. The play wasn’t called from the bench, though Bell enjoyed watching it unfold.

“That’s why baseball is great,” Bell said. “You can’t coach them through everything. They go out and make plays and read the situation and use their instincts, and that’s what Spencer did.”

De La Cruz then scored on an RBI single from Christian Encarnacion-Strand, who drove in three and had his first career four-hit game. The series was a homecoming for Encarnacion-Strand, who grew up across the bay in Pleasant Hill.

He brought a loud cheering section of friends and family out to Oracle Park, including his father. With baseball’s rigorous travel and his dad’s equally busy work obligations, it was the first time that Encarnacion-Strand’s father got to watch his son play a professional game.

“It was awesome,” Encarnacion-Strand said. “It was a great feeling.”

After going 2-5 against the D-backs and Giants to conclude the road trip, the Reds are glad to close the book on a 10-17 August.

“Sometimes, you get challenged a little bit more, and if you can survive that and continue to do what you do and be yourself and stay together as a team, that’s how you get through these stretches,” Bell said. “And sooner than later, it’ll turn a little bit and get a little bit easier. We’ve got a long way to go, a lot to look forward to and a lot of fun to be had this last month.”

Cincinnati currently holds one tiebreaker over its closest Wild Card contenders, having won the season series over Arizona. The Reds don’t hold an advantage over the Giants and Marlins, but they could secure one over the Cubs with a split in the upcoming four-game set at Great American Ball Park. 

The stretch run is officially on.

“We can do it,” Encarnacion-Strand said. “We can accomplish a lot. We just have to keep our energy.”

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