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Willis solid, fans four in Reds debut

MILWAUKEE -- The scene has become all too familiar for Francisco Cordero.

In his last four outings the Reds closer has blown three saves, and Sunday afternoon he walked off the mound as the Brewers celebrated a 4-3 victory at Miller Park. The win was the Brewers' second walk-off against Cordero in three days.

After Craig Counsell was mobbed at first base for hitting a sacrifice fly that scored George Kottaras, Cordero searched for words to sum up his fifth blown save of the season.

"I'm not doing my job right now and it doesn't feel good," he said. "If I want to have a job, I have to do better than I'm doing right now. It was fine before these last four games. I was pitching good, I was smiling, but you know, I just have to stop doing this."

The loss marked the third consecutive series the Reds have dropped and sent Dusty Baker's club into the All-Star break with losses in seven on its past 10 games. The Reds are four games back in the National League Central as Milwaukee and St. Louis are locked in a first-place tie.

"That didn't make for a very pleasant All-Star break, but it's the same way we ended last year against the Phillies," Baker said. "If that's any kind of sign, we've got to rebound like we always have."

The Reds finished the first half of the season two games below .500, and many players pointed to Sunday's loss as another example of the club's inconsistent play. Cincinnati scored three runs in the first four innings but couldn't get timely hitting after that. The pitching situation settled down after a shaky start once Dontrelle Willis found the strike zone, and Aroldis Chapman thew 102-mph fastballs in the seventh and eighth, but Cordero couldn't seal it.

Nyjer Morgan hit a one-out single through the hole between first and second to start the ninth-inning rally and stole second base before Cordero walked Kottaras. Then came Mark Kotsay, who Cordero knows all too well after the Brewers outfielder hit the game-winning single off of the right-hander on Friday. Kotsay ripped a game-tying single that glanced off Cordero's glove and improved to 7-for-14 all-time against the closer.

"They're playing inspired baseball over there," Baker said. "Especially Nyjer Morgan and Kotsay -- those are the guys that've killed us in this series."

Cordero said it's more than control he's struggling with during this skid, though he did hit Rickie Weeks to load the bases. Brewers manager Ron Roenicke called on Counsell to pinch-hit, and the infielder, who was in an 0-for-28 drought, delivered with the game-winning sacrifice fly.

"You're calming yourself down, everybody's going crazy and there's a lot of adrenaline," Counsell said. "The biggest thing is to kind of relax yourself and get a good pitch to hit."

Counsell also hit a game-winning sacrifice fly off Cordero on July 13, 2008, that also came right before the All-Star break.

"He was throwing the ball so well until this week," Baker said. "It was a bad week for Coco and a bad week for us."

The blown save spoiled the return of Willis, who was the 2003 NL Rookie of the Year. It was Willis' first Major League start since June 29, 2010, and his debut with the Reds. Willis said he was too excited early on and it showed in the first inning, when he surrendered a run on two hits and two walks. Willis spent most of the season with Triple-A Louisville and said his return to the Majors hit him when he stepped on the mound.

"I felt back at home," he said. "I just wanted to go out there and play good baseball, and I think I did."

Willis exited the game after he threw six innings, struck out four, walked four and was charged with two earned runs. He also hit a two-out double in the sixth inning off Randy Wolf.

Wolf struggled early and loaded the bases by walking three of the first five batters he faced. The left-hander made matters worse when he hit Scott Rolen, which gave the Reds an early 1-0 lead. Wolf rebounded from his rough start to pitch seven innings and was charged with three runs -- two earned -- on seven hits. The four walks tied Wolf's season high and marked the first time this season he's issued four walks in consecutive outings.

Brewers reliever Kameron Loe pitched two scoreless innings to pick up the win.

The Reds packed their bags and looked around the visitors' clubhouse as Cordero continued to shake his head at his performance.

"You just have to make a pitch, and that's not what I'm doing right now," he said. "I'm not making any pitches. I get paid for that, and I've got to be better than that if we want to go to the playoffs."

Cordero said he can't let the last three blown saves linger in his mind during the break, which might be coming at just the right time for the Reds.

"It seems like when we get the hitting, the pitching doesn't come through. When we get the pitching, the hitting doesn't come through, and it's just kind of been that way the whole season," All-Star right fielder Jay Bruce said. "We just haven't really gotten on the same page for an extended period of time, which I think we are going to do. We've done it before and we're going to do it, I know that." Comments