Tyler Mahle strikes out 12 in win over Brewers

A series sweep wouldn’t be complete without some stellar pitching. The Reds have constructed one of the best starting rotations in the Majors over the last couple of weeks — a staff that has powered the team’s ascension to compete with the top teams in National League Central.

As he continued the stretch of dominant Cincinnati pitching, right-hander Tyler Mahle put together a career outing in the Reds’ 2-1 victory over the Brewers at American Family Field on Wednesday with a career-high-tying 12 strikeouts.

Mahle overpowered the Brewers, leading Cincinnati to a sweep of its division rival. Much of his success in the matinee series finale can be attributed to his use of the fastball, which accounted for nine strikeouts, but the outing was a slow burn to success.

“We’ve seen it a lot from Tyler. He’s been pitching well for a while now, but you do see him get stronger as the game goes on,” manager David Bell said. “Sometimes he’s grinding it out early, and a lot of times, he’ll really pick it up and just get better as it goes. It just says so much about him and who he is as a pitcher.”

Mahle had to work through a lack of command in the first inning that eventually led to a bases-loaded situation. He issued a walk, a single and a hit by pitch among the first four batters he faced. With the pressure on, Mahle was able to sit down the next two hitters with a lineout by Manny Piña and a strikeout out of Jace Peterson.

The right-hander’s struggles continued in the second and third, most notably with Christian Yelich’s RBI single that put the Brewers up by a run. The fourth inning marked the turning point for Mahle, however. His last three innings were a stark contrast compared to the first three. The 26-year-old retired the last 11 batters he faced in order with six strikeouts as he grew more dominant in each inning.

“I just stuck with it,” Mahle said of his ability to find his command. “I was making good pitches, and they hit some balls well. But I knew it wasn’t making bad pitches, so I just had to stick with it and that’s what we did.

“I know I have decent stuff, and if I just trust it, things are gonna go well for me. I think it’s always just kind of been that way, where you get more locked in as the game goes on and getting in a little bit of a rhythm. That’s exactly what happened today.”

Milwaukee has been worrisome for Mahle in the past. Entering this start, Mahle owned an ERA of 6.16 in four career starts against the Brewers. But this version of the right-hander, as of late, has grown into a potential ace. In his previous four starts, Mahle was 4-0 with a 2.31 ERA and an average of six punchouts. His six innings of one-run ball made him the first Reds pitcher to record a winning decision in five consecutive starts since 2014, when All-Star and NL Cy Young Award runner-up Johnny Cueto completed the feat.

“They pitched well. Tyler Mahle, he’s having a really good year. I thought he pitched really well today,” Brewers manager Craig Counsell said. “His fastball was really good, really well located, consistently threw it up and never made mistakes down in the zone. So the guy pitched good today.”

The offense helped Mahle pick up his seventh win of the season with Tyler Naquin’s game-tying double in the fourth and Tucker Barnhart’s go-ahead double in the seventh. The two runs powered Cincinnati to secure its sixth consecutive win and cap back-to-back series sweeps.

The Reds have gone head-to-head against playoff-caliber teams and have come out successful in those duels, a testament that veterans Joey Votto and Barnhart said shows that Cincinnati can compete and win at the highest levels. The Reds’ next chance to further prove their talent will come against the Padres in Southern California for a four-game series.

“With any season comes challenges and ups and downs. We just hit a little bit of a rough patch there early on in the year,” Barnhart said. “It isn’t going to be the last rough patch that we have of this season, [but] we’re all prepared for that. But as it stands now, we’re playing really good baseball. Playing clean baseball in all parts of the game, and it’s fun to be a part of. I think that we just got to keep building on what we’re doing.”