Reds fall to Cubs — again — as Luke Weaver continues to struggle

CHICAGO — Cincinnati Reds catcher Luke Maile called it a “great pitch.” Starter Luke Weaver’s 1-2 sweeper to Chicago Cubs second baseman Nico Hoerner was in a spot where it was impossible to hit, yet Hoerner was fooled and committed early and had no choice but to try.

Hoerner swung through Weaver’s 52nd pitch of the night, in what appeared to be the final out of the third inning. Hoerner was so far out in front that he was nearly on a knee, and all his momentum was pushing him toward first base, like a sprinter out of the blocks.

The ball had bounced in front of Maile, the spin pushing it off in the opposite direction of the flight of the ball on its way to the plate, and Hoerner wound up at first, striking out but continuing the inning.

“It was just a great pitch that got by me,” Maile said. “It was nothing to it other than that it’s about the worst feeling you could ever have. It’s the type of thing you want to crawl into a hole on.”

Weaver walked the next batter, Ian Happ, on four pitches. That led to an RBI single, another walk and two more walks with the bases loaded. The three runs in the inning after strike three with two outs gave the Cubs a 4-1 lead and, eventually, a 5-3 victory. The Reds dropped their third in a row to Chicago, losing the series and their spot in first place in the National League Central, as the Milwaukee Brewers took care of business against the Pittsburgh Pirates 90 miles north.

The Reds, luckily, are done playing near Lake Michigan for the remainder of the season, finishing 6-7 in Chicago and Milwaukee.

The Reds return home from their three-city, 10-game trip that started with them a half-game behind the Brewers in the standings and ended with them a half-game behind the Brewers in the standings.

The biggest difference in the standings from the last time the Reds played at Great American Ball Park is that the Cubs gained four games on the division leaders and went from 5 1/2 games out of a playoff spot to two games out in the wild-card standings.

There was also the small detail of the trade deadline, which saw the Cubs not only keep their most tradeable assets but also add perhaps the top offensive player on the market in Jeimer Candelario. Candelario went 8-for-12 in the series, and the Cubs haven’t lost with him in the lineup (just three games).

The Reds, meanwhile, added reliever Sam Moll. Moll pitched in two of the three games, allowing two hits in 2 2/3 innings with five strikeouts. The Reds needed all eight outs, as their bullpen was taxed by two blowout losses and then Weaver’s abbreviated start Thursday. Weaver threw 41 pitches in the third inning alone and 28 after that “great” pitch to Hoerner.

It’s been a frustrating season for Weaver, who has struggled for most of it. Thursday was just in a different way.

The Reds signed the 29-year-old this offseason to help fill out the rotation. No pitcher with as many as Weaver’s 19 starts has an ERA as high as his 6.98.

In his last start, he allowed just one earned run (and three total) on two hits over six innings but took the loss in Los Angeles. It was his first quality start since May 25, when he allowed three hits over 6 1/3 scoreless innings against the St. Louis Cardinals. The Reds also lost that game.

In the 10 starts in between, he put up an 8.79 ERA. The Reds were 9-1 in those games.

Considering those results, Weaver’s season and the Reds’ season as a whole, sometimes baseball just doesn’t end up like you think it should or would.

Asked about the “great” pitch that got away from Weaver, he waxed a bit philosophical, providing kind of his own “Bull Durham” soliloquy.

“As a pitcher, we literally have no control over what happens when it comes out of our hand,” he said. “The catcher has to catch it. The umpire has to call it. The batter’s got to make his swing. There is no perfect pitch. The perfect pitch is the one we get him out on.

“I threw two balls right down the middle, especially to (Yan) Gomes there with the bases loaded (in the third inning), and he swings through it. It’s like, is that the perfect pitch? No. But it seemed to be in that moment because it did something that worked. It’s the most frustrating but the most beautiful thing in the world to know that execution doesn’t necessarily need to be perfection. It just has to be … fortunate. I don’t know.”

(Photo: Nuccio DiNuzzo / Getty Images)

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