CINCINNATI -- As much as Johnny Cueto's shutout pumped up the Reds and Great American Ball Park during Game 1 on Thursday afternoon, the club's Game 2 performance sucked all the air out of that balloon rather quickly.
A 6-1 loss to the Padres in the evening's nightcap of a split doubleheader was far from the desired followup for the Reds. It meant they dropped two of three games in the series to San Diego and missed out on a winning homestand, settling for a 3-3 mark.
It's become a trend of late for the Reds to feel stuck in neutral, alternating games with highs and lows in their offensive performance.
"It's very frustrating knowing that we should have won the series, knowing that we're a better team than what we're putting out there, and what we put out there tonight," third baseman Todd Frazier said. "It's just understanding that we're better than this."
The Reds won Game 1 on Thursday by a 5-0 score, but produced a combined two runs in the series two losses against a pitching staff with the second-lowest ERA in the National League.
On Thursday night, they struck out 10 times and mustered only three hits -- two were of the infield variety. That included a Frazier infield single that extended his hitting streak to 14 games. The other hit was a two-out double by Chris Heisey off Padres starter Tyson Ross.
"That was a good win. It starts with starting pitching," Padres manager Bud Black said. "They had outstanding starting pitching in the first game behind Johnny Cueto. Our guy was pretty good in the second game."
Still, there was a chance to take control of the game early from Ross, who walked five batters -- including three in the first inning. The Reds were held hitless over the first four innings but had runners on the corners and no outs in the first inning before scratching out only one run.
Billy Hamilton manufactured the run with a leadoff walk and stole second base and third base on consecutive pitches with Heisey batting. After Heisey also walked, Hamilton scored on Brandon Phillips' groundout to the shortstop. Joey Votto struck out on three pitches and after a Frazier two-out walk, Roger Bernadina grounded out.
"The kid, Ross, kind of figured it out after that first inning, and really started making some good pitches," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "Sometimes, that's when you have to try and win your ballgame -- in those early innings when guys haven't settled in. And once he settled in, he made it very difficult for us to establish any type of a rally."
"There's no answer for it," Frazier said. "We were playing against a team where we should win. We came out and got that first run. We couldn't put anything else up against a guy who was pretty much wild the first couple of innings. Even though he didn't give up a hit, we were still seeing pitches. It's the way it goes."
Called up for the spot start from Triple-A Louisville, veteran big leaguer Jeff Francis pitched respectably for five innings -- giving up three runs and five hits with no walks and four strikeouts.
Francis retired his first five batters but a two-out single in the second by Cameron Maybin preceded Rene Rivera's two-run homer to left field. A two-out single by Chase Headley in the third inning scored Chris Denorfia for a 3-1 Padres lead. After that, Francis retired seven of his last eight batters and was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the bottom of the fifth despite having only 71 pitches.
The bullpen didn't do the job in keeping the game close. Logan Ondrusek walked three batters in the sixth, including with two outs to Rivera that loaded the bases. Sean Marshall entered and his first batter, Yonder Alonso, hit an RBI single to left field.
Marshall returned for the seventh and surrendered Everth Cabrera's first homer of the season, a solo shot to left field on a 2-1 pitch. It became a five-run game when another two-out run was cashed on Alonso's solo homer to right field in the eighth off Sam LeCure.
"Jeff threw fine. Our issue is the fact our bullpen is not getting the work it needs to stay crisp," Price said. "You look on the card and we have eight relievers today down there and most of them have pitched once, maybe, in the past week. I kind of felt this second game was an opportunity that if Jeff could give us five, for us to utilize the bullpen and give most of our guys an opportunity to get in there.
"That second game was important, in many ways. It was an important game to win, which we didn't. However, it was also important to rest a couple of guys and get some bullpen guys some work."
Cincinnati has dropped five of its last eight games. Some added help could come as soon as Friday with return of Devin Mesoraco from the disabled list.
Mesoraco was hitting .468 in 13 games before going down with a hamstring injury.
"We know we have a history of being able to produce runs offensively," Price said. "We haven't really found our groove. We haven't run through a streak. We had one for about a week where we were scoring six-seven runs on average per game. I think we're very capable of being more like that team than the offense that we've been working with here lately."