CINCINNATI -- Especially in this stretch without Joey Votto, it's become even more imperative for the Reds to capitalize on scoring chances and limit mistakes.
When they don't, such as Wednesday, it's a recipe for a dud of an outcome like the Reds' 7-1 loss to the D-backs. It put Cincinnati back into a first-place tie with the Pirates in the National League Central.
In the first two innings, there were two missed sacrifice bunts for Cincinnati and the club came up empty with a runner on third and one out in the first.
"Those are the things you have to do if you're going to play winning baseball," Reds manager Dusty Baker said. "Those are some of the things we're working on big time. We're addressing it, talking about it and everybody is thinking about it. You have to get to the point where you don't talk about it or think about it. You don't try. You just do it. The simple fact is you've got to do it."
D-backs starter Ian Kennedy, who is 7-8 with a 4.33 ERA, pitched eight innings and allowed one run after he gave up six runs in his previous start vs. the Cubs. The Reds had a chance at hurting Kennedy and misfired.
After Drew Stubbs led off the first inning with a double, Zack Cozart couldn't get a sacrifice bunt down and popped out. With runners on the corners, struggling Jay Bruce hit a first pitch popup to third base and Ryan Ludwick softly lined out to shortstop. Bruce is batting .119 (5-for-42) over his last 11 games.
The Reds came in hitting .236 as a team with runners in scoring position. Take away Votto's .371 average in those situations, ways to pick up the slack become more difficult.
"We had some opportunities early to get on him, especially that all important runner on third and less than two outs," Baker said. "Who knows what could have happened if we had picked up those runners early."
There were Cincinnati runners on first and second with one out in the second inning when Reds pitcher Mat Latos couldn't get down a sacrifice, and hit a fielder's choice to third base. Stubbs flared an RBI single just beyond the dirt in short right field to score Ryan Hanigan with the lone Reds run.
From the third inning on, all of Kennedy's remaining hits allowed came with two outs. He largely cruised towards the end, including a brisk six-pitch bottom of the seventh.
"He had been struggling and that was the best that he's thrown in a while," Baker said. "When a guy is struggling, if you can get on him early, a guy tends to think 'Here I go again, struggling again.' He got out of those situations early, settled down and got some run support. It was tough after that."
A 15-start unbeaten streak, including seven winning decisions, ended for Latos (7-3, .433) after he gave up five runs over 4 2/3 innings. He allowed six hits and two walks with three strikeouts. His primary nemesis early on was slugger Jason Kubel.
Arizona took a 2-0 lead in the first inning when Kubel lifted a 1-0 Latos fastball beyond the wall in center field for a two-run homer.
Latos retired the next eight hitters in a row until Kubel led off the fourth inning by sending an 0-1 pitch to right-center field for his second homer of the night and 16th of the season to make it a 3-1 game. Kubel had missed the last four games with a sore hamstring.
"You throw a pitch out over the middle of the plate and it doesn't really matter what kind of hitter he is. He's going to hit the ball hard," said Latos, who hadn't taken a loss since April 18. "The first one was a fastball right down the middle and the second one was a slider, right down the middle."
As the Reds struggled to get going, the lead only helped Kennedy.
"[Kubel] was big tonight, putting us on the board there early," Kennedy said. "It makes you pitch more aggressive because you have that lead."
Latos worked himself into a jam he couldn't escape in the fifth. Following back-to-back singles, Kennedy's sac bunt attempt went for a forceout at third base. Latos had two outs when Aaron Hill hit a RBI double to left field. This time, Kubel was intentionally walked to load the bases. Miguel Montero walked on a full-count pitch to force home a run.
His team down by a 5-1 score, Baker lifted Latos from the game for Sam LeCure. As he walked into the dugout, Latos angrily hurled his glove down the steps towards the tunnel.
"To Hill, the ball was in. It wasn't supposed to be. He just got his hands to it. He's a good hitter. That was, I think, the backbreaker of the game. I get out of that inning, it's 3-1."
Cincinnati entered the series winners of six straight before Arizona took two of the first three games heading into Thursday's finale.