The San Francisco Giants received much more than they could have expected from an emergency starting pitcher who'd thrown 20 pitches as a reliever in a loss to the Los Angeles Dodgers only two nights before.
What Casey Kelly's first major league start in nearly 2 1/2 seasons didn't gain them was a victory, as Phillip Ervin's homer in the 11th inning Friday gave the Cincinnati Reds a 2-1 victory against the Giants at Great American Ball Park.
This is exactly what the Giants didn't need as they dig into the most crucial part of their schedule. It means they badly need another strong start from left-handed ace Madison Bumgarner (4-4) as he opposes Reds right-hander Matt Harvey (5-7) in the second game of the three-game series Saturday.
The Giants are beginning a 16-game stretch that likely will determine the fate of their season -- and, too, the direction of their offseason --and the Friday night loss negated any momentum they gained by taking two of three from the Dodgers in Los Angeles.
"We have good hitters up there but, right now, we're in a serious funk," manager Bruce Bochy said after his team was held to two runs or fewer for the fifth time in 10 games. "And they're having trouble getting out of it."
The Giants picked a bad time to slump, too. From now until early September, they're taking on the losing-record Reds, New York Mets and Texas Rangers, the first-place Arizona Diamondbacks and, again, the Mets.
It's a chance to make something of what has been a so-so season to date, with the Giants lodged in fourth-place in the NL West and facing only the longest of shots to get back into contention.
Making it worse, they'll temporarily be without rookie star Dereck Rodriguez (6-1), who was scratched from his scheduled start Friday with a sprained right hamstring. He was hurt during the benches-clearing confrontation between the Giants and Dodgers on Tuesday night, but wasn't scratched from the start until the team arrived in Cincinnati on Thursday night.
With Rodriguez unexpectedly out, Kelly started and limited the Reds to one run over 4 1/3 innings despite giving up nine hits. Only two nights before, Kelly -- the son of Reds interim bench coach Pat Kelly -- took the loss in relief as the Giants lost to the Dodgers 4-3 in 12 innings Wednesday.
Five Giants relievers followed Kelly to shut out the Reds until the 11th, when Ervin hit his sixth career homer on a drive to center field off right-hander Ray Black, who's given up five runs on seven hits in his last four appearances.
Reds starter Anthony DeSclafani was even better than Kelly during his third consecutive strong start, holding the Giants to one run and five hits over 7 2/3 innings. The right-hander is rebounding just as the Reds hoped he would after being out from September 2016 until early June with multiple injuries.
"I'm mixing it up, trying to use both sides of the plate and keep it out of the middle of the plate," said DeSclafani, who has given up only two runs over 21 innings in his last three starts. "I feel comfortable on the mound with my delivery, and I'm trying to make pitches when I need to."
The Giants have dropped eight of 13, making Bumgarner's start Saturday all the more important. The star of the Giants' World Series-winning team in 2014, Bumgarner has allowed three earned runs in 18 innings over his last three starts and has lost only once in seven starts since July 8.
Bumgarner is 3-4 with a 3.83 ERA in eight career starts against the Reds, but hasn't faced them since July 27, 2016 and thus doesn't have much of a track record against most of their hitters.
Harvey shook off a string of recent subpar performances to limit the Diamondbacks to two runs over seven innings of the Reds' 6-3 victory last Saturday. Catcher Buster Posey (5-for-8, .625) has been trouble for Harvey but, right now, every pitcher seems to be trouble to the Giants.
"We've talked about it many times, the offense just has to get going," Bochy said. "They're better than this. ... (You think) 'Hey, we're going to come out of this,' but it's frustrating."
The Reds are without one of their top players, too. First baseman Joey Votto was placed on the disabled list with a bruised lower right leg, an injury that's been bothering him for more than a week. With Votto out, catcher Tucker Barnhart made his first career start at first base on Friday.