SAN DIEGO -- The Reds have gotten quality starts now two times through the rotation and it's been essential during their marathon West Coast trip.
Homer Bailey wasn't his sharpest, but he was more than good enough for 6 2/3 innings to earn a 6-5 win over the Padres on Saturday. That gave the rotation 10 straight quality starts on the trip, a stretch not seen for the franchise in exactly 18 years -- June 28-July 7, 1994.
Malign the quality start stat (at least six innings pitched with three or fewer earned runs allowed) if you must. But when the Reds get one, they're 36-17 this season. Cincinnati is 5-5 on this pivotal road trip, and despite some barren patches offensively, the Reds can still go home with a winning journey with a victory Sunday.
"That's what you need. You need that, big time," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "It keeps your bullpen strong. Each guy feeds off each other. That was a big one for us to win right there. Now we've got a chance to take three out of four and possibly get back into first place tomorrow if Pittsburgh loses."
The first-place Pirates are one game ahead of the Reds in the National League Central standings.
For the second consecutive night, the offense was perky and backed the pitching effort, although the Padres did not go away quietly Saturday.
"It seemed like every time they got one or two runs, we came back with one or two or three," said third baseman Todd Frazier, who was 2-for-4. "That's how it's got to be with us. Just keep plugging away, get on them early and let our pitchers relax a little bit and keep doing what they're doing."
One night after snapping an 0-for-32 skid with a ninth-inning double, Drew Stubbs gave the Reds a 1-0 lead in the first inning when he hit a home run that just cleared the wall in right field against Padres lefty Clayton Richard. Leading off the bottom of the first, Chris Denorfia got the run back when he crushed a first pitch to right-center field for a homer that snapped a 22-inning scoreless streak for the Reds rotation.
Following a Chase Headley double later in the inning, Bailey retired 12 in a row.
"I didn't expect him to jump on the first pitch of the game. After that, I made a few bad pitches. We threw some good ones too," said Bailey, who gave up four runs (two earned) with seven hits, no walks and eight strikeouts. "My curveball was iffy and it was struggling early. At the end, I was losing it a little bit. I didn't think I threw that well. I got the win and the offense picked us up and that's what matters."
Richard retired 11 Reds in a row until Frazier led off the fifth inning with a hit to right field and hustled to second base for a double. After Chris Heisey lined a single to center field, Frazier scored on Devin Mesoraco's groundout to second base. Bailey gave himself a 3-1 lead when he lifted an RBI double over Denorfia's head in right field.
Defensive miscues let the Padres tie the game. In the fifth, Bailey's errant pickoff throw to first base allowed Cameron Maybin to take second base. Maybin scored on Logan Forsythe's lined RBI single to left field. In the sixth on a Headley drive to right field, Jay Bruce dropped an over-the-shoulder catch attempt for a two-base error. Headley scored the tying run on Carlos Quentin's RBI single to left field.
"Defense-wise, you relax and you know even if you do make a mistake, [the pitchers are] still raring to go," Frazier said. "Today you saw that with Homer. He got into a jam one time and got out of it. He held them to one run instead of two or three."
With Frazier on first base with a leadoff single in the seventh, Heisey tattooed a 1-2 Richard pitch to deep left-center field for a two-run home run. A third run crossed when Stubbs beat out a potential inning-ending double play, which allowed Mesoraco to score.
In the bottom of the seventh after the Reds took a three-run lead, Denorfia's single off of Bailey put runners on first and second base with one out.
"We were trying to get him through that seventh," Baker said. "Things were lining up well. Then Denorfia got that other hit off of him. It was time to go get him."
Jose Arredondo took over and gave up Alexi Amarista's RBI single before striking out Headley to end the threat. It got even tighter in the eighth when lefty Sean Marshall gave up three singles, including Forsythe's second RBI single, and a four-pitch walk. Logan Ondrusek preserved the lead by retiring his only batter.
Aroldis Chapman struck out the side in the ninth for his 10th save. The velocity of Chapman's strikeout pitches were 101, 100, and 102 mph.
The last time the Reds enjoyed 11 consecutive quality starts was in 1990. Ace Johnny Cueto will start Sunday before the All-Star break.
"Everybody has been really stepping it up," Bailey said. "When you come out here on the road, wherever you're at, and the rotation does what it does, good things can happen."