Matt McLain hits grand slam, Spencer Steer doubles in Reds’ win

CINCINNATI — It seemed very plausible Friday night at Great American Ball Park that the next National League Rookie of the Year was on the field.

“We have a lot of really talented rookies on this team,” Steer said before the series opener. “Any one of them could win it. And obviously Corbin Carroll is an incredible player and what he does is pretty special as well. I’m excited to share the field with a lot of young talent.”

The Reds’ young talent had his fingerprints all over the 9-6 win over the D-backs, the club’s third win in a row. Steer had two hits and three RBIs, including a two-run double to plate the runs in the fourth inning. But the showcase moment came in the following inning when McLain hit his first grand slam as a major leaguer to make it a 9-3 game. McLain was drafted out of high school by the D-backs with the 25th overall pick in the 2018 MLB Draft, but chose to play collegiately at UCLA.

Cincinnati’s position players are the fifth-youngest in the Major Leagues — including the four rookies in Friday’s starting lineup. Arizona, led by Carroll, follows close behind in sixth. Both clubs are surprising contenders for the postseason.

“It makes me wish I was younger, but it’s great,” said Reds starting pitcher Ben Lively, who gave up three earned runs over 4 2/3 innings. “Literally, they’re so energized and so alive, ready to go every day — it’s so cool. When you see them coming for it, even during their exercises and blood pressure and stuff, they’re into it. It’s cool to see, it’s really fun. … I just close my eyes and think, ‘No, I’m not 31. I’m 21.'”

It was a 2-2 game in the fourth inning as Nick Senzel and McLain worked back-to-back two-out walks against D-backs lefty starter Tommy Henry. Then, on the first pitch, Steer scorched a line drive to the left field corner to plate both runners.

Steer, who had an RBI groundout in the first inning and a leadoff single in the third, entered the night on a 3-for-35 skid with 13 strikeouts over his previous 10 games. He leads all NL rookies with 95 hits, one more than Carroll.

In the fifth inning, right fielder Will Benson – a Cincinnati sophomore – made a nice running catch to steal a hit from Gabriel Moreno. But three batters later, Benson misjudged Ketel Marte’s liner and took a step forward before the ball crossed over his head and out of his glove for an RBI triple.

Against D-backs rookie reliever Justin Martinez, Benson got the run back in the bottom of the fifth with an RBI ground-rule double to left field that scored rookie Christian Encarnacion-Strand. With two outs and the bases loaded 0-2, McLain lifted Martinez’s 100.9 mph fastball to right field for the grand slam.

“He blew two past me, the two before. I had to make an adjustment,” McLain said. “I made a little adjustment after the first one. It wasn’t enough, so I had to start (swinging) earlier. He’s throwing gas.”

In the 57 games since his promotion to the big leagues on May 15, McLain has slashed .301/.367/.519 with nine homers and 34 RBIs. He leads NL rookies in batting and on-base percentage.

After a brief 1-for-11 slump, McLain is hitting .421 (8-for-19) with two homers in his past five games.

McLain is on the rise again, picking up De La Cruz as he’s stuck in a 3-for-35 (.086) stretch with 16 strikeouts in nine games since the All-Star break.

“It’s a good feeling knowing there are other guys in the lineup that can do the job,” McLain said. “Up and down, one through nine, everybody can beat you. It’s a good feeling to be on this side of it. I’m sure it’s tough for opponents and opposing teams. But it’s a good thing for us.”

With a Brewers loss to the Braves on Friday night, the second place Reds are 1.5 games back in the NL Central race.

The Reds’ youthful energy could be a key factor when other clubs can wear down.

“Obviously, we’re having a lot of fun doing it,” Steer said. “I think it just helps us to be at the same stage of our careers, that we’re all rookies and going through it together. We’re doing it together and it’s all new territory for us. It’s just a lot of fun to do it with these guys. To see them succeed is just the cherry on top, too.”

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