Suddenly hot Jeimer Candelario leads Reds to another win with 2-homer game


CINCINNATI — After leading the Cincinnati Reds to a seven-game winning streak last week, Jeimer Candelario said he wasn’t quite where he wanted to be, but “when I get there, you will know for sure.”

Candelario announced his presence Wednesday, driving in all four Reds runs on a pair of homers in the team’s 4-2 victory over the Cleveland Guardians, leading to a split in the two-game series at Great American Ball Park.

“I’ve got to keep going — when a month goes that way … that’s what I’m looking for,” Candelario said. “As a switch hitter, it takes some time — a lot of time — and dedication. You’ve got to study the pitchers. I never took anything for granted. I just have to keep going.”

Signed to a three-year deal worth $45 million this offseason, the 30-year-old switch hitter struggled out of the gate with his new team, hitting just .218/.295/.413 in 49 games through May.

Even when he was scuffling, it was difficult to tell by his demeanor in the clubhouse or on the field.

“He’s a really even-keeled guy. He’s experienced,” said Reds starter Nick Lodolo, who improved to 7-2 on the season with the Reds winning eight of his 10 starts. “He knows what he wants to do and never panicked. It’s coming around for him and he’s a big part of the locker room.”

Catcher Tyler Stephenson’s locker is next to Candelario’s in the corner of the Reds clubhouse. He’s watched Candelario day in and day out put in the same work, no matter what the box score said.

“Seeing how he goes about his business is something we can all learn from,” Stephenson said. “The way he goes about his business every day, happy and positive. I’m happy for him.”

June 1, back at Wrigley Field where he finished last season, Candelario had a pair of hits in a loss to the Chicago Cubs. The next day he had another pair of hits as the Reds beat the Cubs to start what would finish as a seven-game winning streak. Candelario had a hit in each of those seven games, going 10-for-30 with three homers in that stretch.

After going hitless in Sunday’s loss to Chicago, he had a double Tuesday, then followed that with his three-hit performance Wednesday.

With his fifth career two-homer game, he’s tied with Elly De La Cruz for the team lead in home runs with 11.

Candelario homered in the first to give the Reds a 1-0 lead, but Cleveland took a 2-1 lead with runs in the third and fifth innings. After Candelario’s first-inning home run, the Reds didn’t notch another hit off of Guardians starter Tanner Bibee, who recorded a career-best 11 strikeouts, until former Guardian Will Benson singled to lead off the sixth. TJ Friedl followed with another single, and after Bibee’s strikeout of De La Cruz, Candelario came up again.

Candelario fouled off three of Bibee’s first four pitches to quickly find himself down 1-2 before watching two straight fastballs sail well high and away. Bibee’s next pitch was a fastball well outside of the zone that Candelario fouled off.

After that foul, Candelario looked back at home plate umpire Sean Barber to confirm what he thought he knew — that he’d just swung at ball four.

That’s when you could see Candelario talking to himself. His message to himself, he said, was “keep grinding, keep staying back. Hit the ball when it’s a strike. When it’s in the strike zone, put the barrel on the ball, please.”

Bibee’s 102nd and final pitch of the night was in the strike zone, barely. After three straight fastballs at either 95 or 96 mph, Bibee threw a changeup at 81.5 mph at the bottom of the zone. Candelario got out in front of the ball, but he did exactly what he told himself to do — put the barrel on it.

“I was in front, but I was sure I hit the ball on the barrel,” he said.

Candelario said he knew it was gone the moment he hit it. It can be forgiven that the 42,427 fans at Great American Ball Park were less sure. The ball was hit high and Candelario was so far out front that his top hand let go of the bat just an instant after impact. The ball also curved toward foul territory before sneaking over the fence and into the visitors bullpen.

The shocked and almost bemused look on Bibee’s face told the story of a pitcher who made the pitch he wanted to make, thought he’d got the batter out just far enough to avoid the damage and then watched it bounce around into the bullpen.

“The extension,” Reds manager David Bell said. “It was the whole at-bat. He saw a bunch of pitches. Their pitcher had really good stuff — a great changeup. He left it up just enough to get the extension.”

When the Reds added to their team this offseason, the front office researched the character of the players they brought in as much as what they contributed on the field. In Candelario, they got a veteran switch hitter with power and a consistent approach. They also got someone who leads by example.

“Everyone we talked to about Jeimer had nothing but positive things to say. (He is) very important, not only to the character in the clubhouse but also him as a hitter and the stability he provides in our lineup,” Bell said. “To his credit, getting off to a slower start when you’re on a new team and you’re trying too much and want to contribute so bad and he did. He was able to keep steady and working on it and he’s doing it now.”

(Photo: Andy Lyons / Getty Images)





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