CINCINNATI -- This late in the season, Dusty Baker is pleased with the shape his bullpen is in, and the Reds' skipper said as much following Monday's 5-3 win over the D-backs, calling the team's relievers strong.
Much of that, he said before Tuesday's game, is the result of Cincinnati's starting pitching, which ranked second in the Majors in innings pitched (783 1/3) and ERA (3.30) entering the second game of this week's four-game set against Arizona. With that, Baker has avoided overusing his bullpen and enjoyed some flexibility when it comes to who he puts on the mound in what situations.
Left-hander Manny Parra, who made his fifth straight scoreless appearance on Monday night, had an analogy ready to go when asked about relievers continually being put in positions to succeed rather than having to escape trouble created by the pitcher before them.
"I would look at it like going to a casino or something, where you're playing the game with the best odds," Parra said. "You're giving yourself the best chance to win, and when the starters go deep like they have been, you're able to use the guys in situations that, from previous stats, provide some sort of advantage for that pitcher. When you can do that, you're obviously giving yourself a better chance to perform."
Parra, who said he hasn't seen a bullpen receive this much rest in six Major League seasons, and his fellow relievers have certainly been performing quite well.
Before Tuesday's game, the bullpen hadn't given up a run in eight of the last nine games. In late June and early July, Reds relievers went 10 straight games without surrendering a run, helping contribute to the fifth best bullpen ERA (3.34) in the National League. As far as scoreless streaks go, J.J. Hoover leads the way, as he rode a 23-game scoreless stretch (club record for a right-hander) that covered 26 1/3 innings going into Tuesday.
According to right-hander Sam LeCure, though, Parra has been the biggest factor in the bullpen's success, as he recovered from a shaky first 12 appearances to build an ERA of just 0.78 in his last 14 outings. With Sean Marshall injured much of the season, Parra has been the team's primary left-hander out of the 'pen, limiting opposing lefties to a .188 batting average.
In reality, it's been a group effort. Closer Aroldis Chapman led the bullpen with 56 appearances before Tuesday, while no other reliever -- excluding Marshall -- had pitched in fewer than 35 games. Although Baker and his relievers were in agreement that starting pitching has been crucial, having a variety of relievers at the Reds' disposal hasn't hurt the bullpen's cause.
"Everybody down there has held their own and done a good job, I feel like, so we'll just see how it plays out," said LeCure, who also carried a five-game scoreless streak into Tuesday. "Everybody is going to be ready and understand that we're going to play tight games down the stretch. And all these games are important, so everybody is going to be on top of their game, I would imagine."
For Baker, he believes a fresher bullpen can be one of the deciding factors down the stretch for the Reds, who began Tuesday 2 1/2 games behind first-place Pittsburgh in the National League Central.
"It's huge," Baker said. "When they get worn down, they're worn down, unless you have a whole bunch of reinforcements like some organizations do. They can flip-flop guys in and out, like St. Louis has or like Pittsburgh has. We're depending on what we have."
Mark Sheldon is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Mark My Word, and follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon. Jeremy Warnemuende is an associate reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.