The Cincinnati Reds are off to their worst start in 63 years, and the St. Louis Cardinals aren’t doing much to make it better.

No wonder Reds manager Bryan Price is hoping Brandon Finnegan can be the one to calm down the Cardinals’ bats. The left-handed Finnegan makes his 2018 debut Saturday, when the four-game series between the NL Central rivals continues at Great American Ball Park.

One night after the Cardinals roughed up the Reds’ struggling pitching staff during a 13-4 rout, St. Louis combined a big night at the plate by catcher Yadier Molina with a strong pitching performance by right-hander Luke Weaver to deal Cincinnati a 5-3 loss on Friday night.

That’s 11 losses in 13 games in a fast-slipping-away season for the Reds, who haven’t been so bad so early since they had the same record during the 1955 season.

And, with 18 runs in two nights, the Cardinals are backing up manager Mike Matheny‘s prediction before the series began that when his team’s bats started breaking out, they’d do so in a big way. The Reds’ pitching staff is incurring much of the damage, as its team ERA has climbed from 5.59 to 6.04 in only two nights.

“We’re taking good at-bats,” said Molina, who homered during a two-hit night and drove in three runs. “The approach we’re taking, we’re putting balls in play. Hopefully we can keep it going.”

Finnegan will try to make sure it doesn’t. He will come off the 10-day disabled list to make his first start since June 26, 2017, also against St. Louis, after sustaining a series of injuries last season that included a left shoulder muscle tear, a dislocated right shoulder and a strained back muscle.

He also had a left forearm strain during spring training that slowed his 2018 debut, but the Reds liked how he threw the ball during a rehabilitation start Monday for Triple-A Louisville and again during a subsequent bullpen session.

“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do,” Price said. “Now, we need to get him out into a big-league ballgame and see where he’s at. It’s good to have him back.”

Finnegan is 2-2 in eight career appearances against the Cardinals, six of them starts. In his only start against St. Louis last season, Finnegan allowed three runs, three hits and four walks in three innings and picked up the loss. Matt Carpenter is 4-for-11 (.364) against him with two homers and five RBIs, while Molina is 5-for-10 (.500) with a solo homer. Marcell Ozuna is 1-for-3 with a solo homer.

The Cardinals, winners of three of four, hope to keep it going Saturday — not only at the plate but on the mound, where right-hander Miles Mikolas (1-0, 6.00 ERA) will make his third start of the season. The 29-year-old Mikolas returned to the majors this season after spending the last three years pitching in Japan, where he was 14-8 with a 2.25 ERA last season.

Weaver couldn’t have been much better Friday, striking out seven while giving up four hits and two runs over six innings. He is 9-1 in his last 12 starts dating to last season, prompting Matheny to say, “He did a nice job of mixing everything up. … It was an all-around great day.”

Mikolas’ first two starts with St. Louis came against Milwaukee. He got the win despite allowing three homers in 5 2/3 innings as the Cardinals beat the Brewers 8-4 on April 2 — he homered himself — but didn’t figure in the decision after allowing four runs in 6 1/3 innings of Milwaukee’s 5-4 win on Monday. He struck out five and walked none.

“Miles threw the ball well,” Matheny said.

Mikolas faced the Reds in a pair of brief relief appearances lasting a total of two innings, in 2012 and 2013, allowing two hits and two runs. He was released by the Texas Rangers following the 2014 season and then migrated to Japan to revive his career.

The Reds would like to find something to revive themselves after losing six in a row and eight of nine.

“We’ve been through some stretches, challenging and difficult times as far as winning games over the last few years,” Price said, reflecting on three consecutive seasons with 94 or more losses going into this season. “It’s nothing you accept or get comfortable with or tolerate or say, ‘Hey, this is OK.’ We can make this a much worse environment to be in if we lose sight of what we’re trying to do.”



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