CINCINNATI -- The Reds lineup found its way out of the barren wilderness it had been in of late, and the hitters could enjoy the moment on Sunday afternoon.
It wasn't just that the Reds put together some big hits and home runs for a 12-4 win over the Rays that avoided a three-game sweep. It was that Cincinnati kept its foot on the gas and kept adding more runs to keep its opponent well behind.
"It does send the right message to the players," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "We've had a couple of games where we scored early this season and we've given the runs back and we haven't been able to create the separation that we wanted, especially against the Cardinals. It's important. We did a nice job of that today. Guys were terrific in their at-bats. We didn't give a lot of at-bats away."
Entering the day, the Reds were tied with the Padres for last in the Majors with 28. They had nearly half that total in one game, as every starting player except for Todd Frazier had at least one hit.
"There's no doubt about it. We've got talent, and guys that can hit," said Chris Heisey, who had the biggest add-on with a pinch-hit grand slam in the eighth inning. "Today, we clicked. It's going to happen. There are a lot of teams in the league that aren't scoring runs. It's early in the year. Everybody is getting adjusted. There are a lot of hits to come."
Filling in for the injured Matt Moore, Rays spot starter Cesar Ramos walked the bases loaded with one out in the second inning to set up a big opportunity for the Reds. Zack Cozart's ground-rule double to right field scored two runs.
"It's a good lineup, and falling behind, you try to miss some bats," Ramos said. "That's what I tried to do and maybe I nibbled just a little too much on the corners. Didn't get those and fell behind."
A pair of baserunning gaffes killed the rally, however, When starting pitcher Tony Cingrani hit a grounder to shortstop, Devin Mesoraco was thrown out running on contact from third to home. Cingrani drifted far from first base to draw a throw, but Cozart tried to score and was thrown out for an inning-ending double play.
Tampa Bay quickly evened the game in the third inning when Cingrani issued a two-out walk before Ben Zobrist hit a 2-1 pitch for a two-run homer to left field. Zobrist would go deep again with another two-run shot in the seventh against Nick Christiani.
A big third-inning rally helped the Reds pull away while sending 10 men to the plate. Following a Billy Hamilton leadoff single, Joey Votto hit a 1-0 Ramos pitch for a two-run homer to the batter's eye in center field. Later with two outs, Mesoraco sent reliever Brandon Gomes' 0-2 pitch deep to left field for a long three-run homer and a 7-2 lead.
Jay Bruce, who walked a career-high four times, hit a fifth-inning double and scored on a sacrifice fly in the fifth. It was an 8-4 game after the second Zobrist homer in the seventh -- keeping the Rays within striking distance.
In the eighth, Rays reliever Josh Lueke walked Bruce intentionally to bring up Heisey. On a 1-0 pitch, the pinch-hitting Heisey went to the opposite field, with his first career grand slam landing in the right-field seats. It was the seventh pinch-hit homer of his career as well.
"It was just a matter of time," Cingrani said. "We have some great hitters in our lineup. Today was that day they broke out of it."
Cingrani allowed two runs and five hits over 6 1/3 innings for the win. He walked three and struck out six while extending his big league record streak to 21 starts to begin a career without giving up more than five hits.
"He didn't have the best control or the best stuff but he was able to make pitches when he needed to, which was important," Mesoraco said. "He was able to bear down. He was able to get outs with runners in scoring position. He threw the best that he could."
The Reds' pitching staff gave up only seven earned runs in the three-game series and lost. No starting pitcher gave up more than two runs.
Now 4-8, Cincinnati also had five defeats by a one-run margin. Price shook up the lineup before Saturday's game and held a team meeting following a subsequent 1-0 loss to Tampa Bay. The 2012 Reds started out 4-8 before winning the National League Central with 97 wins.
"The key early in the season is not losing faith," Price said. "To me, pressure is self induced. It's a matter of keeping the faith. We understand this is a good team. Everyone in there knows it. I'm certain that the frustration becomes the biggest challenge for our club. It's just a matter of going out there and understanding we have to play 162 games.
"We're going to win a good bunch of games, but we'd like to start to see guys start to relax, and just be themselves and play the type of game they're a capable of playing. This is an indication that we're getting closer to that."