CINCINNATI -- The Reds have had a winning homestand, and have seemingly survived well despite injuries -- all while playing a tough stretch of 20 straight games without a day off. On top of that, they've played extra innings in three of the previous four games -- which has taxed the bullpen.
Reds manager Dusty Baker let his players know how he felt.
"I'm proud of these guys where we are right now," Baker said on Wednesday morning. "I told them this was one of the toughest stretches before we even started. Let's not lose sight of where we are in this tough stretch. I've never started in April to have 20 in a row. Usually that's for midseason. Nobody's pitching is ready for that. Pitchers coming out of Spring Training usually go six or seven [innings]. Relievers rarely throw back to back in Spring Training."
Paul making most of his chances to contribute
CINCINNATI -- As the fifth outfielder coming into the season for the Reds, Xavier Paul knew he'd likely get limited chances to produce.
An Opening Day injury to primary left fielder Ryan Ludwick and Chris Heisey's struggles have broadened those opportunities for Paul. He hasn't disappointed.
Paul, who started in left field Wednesday, came into the game batting .346 (9-for-26) in 15 games, including four starts. As a pinch-hitter, he is tied for the Major League lead with five RBIs, but that does include a grand slam.
"One thing I've learned that's helped me is I never allow myself to be too high or too low," Paul said. "You'll have streaks where it's not going so good. And you'll have streaks where you can't get out. It's learning to take the game day to day."
Kind of like the mentality of a reliever who has to always forget yesterday.
"That's it," Paul agreed. "Sometimes you're going to get your stuff lit up, and sometimes you'll have a scoreless streak. I've just learned to accept failure and how to handle success."
As he did often with Heisey last season, Reds manager Dusty Baker tries to maximize Paul's chances for success with good matchups.
"I have to match X against a guy throwing hard," Baker said. "It's just my opinion on what I think their strengths and weaknesses are. That's my job. I've been at it a long time. I recognize who they probably will hit and who they won't. The rest is up to them. You can't hit for them. You can't play for them. You can't do anything.
"He can hit. He's working hard on his defense. We need some production out there. We're leaving so many men [on base] out there, we wished we had Ludwick. He could pick them up. We need production in other places."
Cincinnati pizza chain paying for wealth of publicity
CINCINNATI -- A Cincinnati pizza chain is finding itself forking out a lot of dough lately -- both money and actual pizza dough, too. As part of a promotion, LaRosa's Pizza gives ticketholders at Reds home games a free eight-inch pizza if Reds pitchers notch 11 strikeouts.
When the promotion was done last season, there were 14 occasions when fans have gotten pizza. Already this season, it's happened seven times -- including four of the previous five games on the homestand.
"It's been busy," said Pete Buscani, LaRosa's vice president of marketing on Wednesday.
The offer for the free, up-to-four-topping pizza begins the day after an 11-strikeout game and is good for seven days. Buscani estimates there has been a 15-20 percent retention rate among fans, which has cost the company with 65 locations in Greater Cincinnati more than $100,000. Each pizza is priced normally at $5.79.
Buzz around Great American Ball Park usually increases when the pitching staff has reached eight or nine strikeouts. Once 11 is reached, the cheers are loud, no matter what the context of the game is.
"We have franchise owners that can be a tough group, and they weren't too thrilled with giving away free pizza," Buscani said. "But they've seen how happy people are and that they come in excited and thankful for us doing this promotion. Happy guests make the franchise owners happy, too."
Entering Wednesday, the Reds' pitching staff was leading the National League with 195 strikeouts. It had at least 10 strikeouts in a franchise-record six straight games. But for those fans who want pizza, 11 is the magic number.
"Some [franchises] are saying this is the best promotion we've done in a while," Buscani said.
It's not been all good news, however. There is no pizza for when Reds hitters strike out in bunches, which has happened, too. Offensively, Cincinnati also came in leading the NL with 177 strikeouts.
"I'm not impressed that we've had an equal amount of strikeouts on our side. That's unimpressive," Reds manager Dusty Baker said.