Thank God for Tony Cingrani. The lefthanded rookie hurler kept the Redlegs from getting swept out of Washington, DC with a true gem this past Sunday. Six innings of work, no runs, 11 strikeouts and a win. And this didn’t come against the Marlins or Cubs, either.
Reds and lefthanded pitchers who are successful don’t exactly mix, despite our fond memories of Joe Nuxhall. They have been few in number and even fewer have had any success. Some were moved to the bullpen, some were traded and others never made it out of the minor leagues. One was drafted (Jeremy Sowers), opted to attend
Vanderbilt, and then was drafted by the Cleveland Indians and made his debut against the Reds — and was out of baseball four years later.
Since 1969, the Reds have drafted and groomed two lefthanded starting pitchers of note; Don Gullett and Tom Browning. Both are in the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame, deservedly so. Other lefties acquired by trades have contributed heavily, such as Fred Norman, Danny Jackson, and John Smiley. But when it comes to drafting young
lefthanded starting pitchers, the Reds don’t have a very good batting average, so to speak.
Grimsley was one of the few who had some success with the Reds. The Reds drafted Grimsley in the 1 st round of the 1969 draft and he worked his way to the majors in rapid fashion. He broke in with the Reds during the 1971 season and finished with a 10-7 record. He improved to 14-8 in 1972 and pitched one of the best Reds playoff
games ever in a Game 4 win over Pittsburgh in the NL playoffs, allowing just two hits and one run in a complete game victory. The lone run he yielded was the last home run hit by the great Roberto Clemente.
Grimsley kept on winning, posting a 13-10 record in 1973 but his antics were making Manager Sparky Anderson weary. He didn’t like the Reds grooming standards back then, which prohibited long hair and beards. He apparently corresponded with a witch who was sending him good luck charms. And his belief in black magic startled Anderson and the Reds skipper pushed for a trade. Reds General Manager Bob Howsam initially resisted. But after the 1973 season, Cincinnati traded Grimsley to the Baltimore Orioles for Junior Kennedy, Bill Wood and Merv Rettenmund. This wasn’t one of Howsam’s better trades. The Reds coveted Rettenmund, a fourth outfielder for the Orioles, but that’s all he amounted to for the Reds as well. Kennedy was a backup infielder and Wood never made it of the minor leagues. Grimsley won 18 games for the Orioles in 1974 and would have been a big help to the Reds in their chase of the first-place Dodgers that season.
Grimsley still had some controversy in Baltimore. Yankees manager Billy Martin accused him of throwing spitballs and grease balls (Grimsley grew an Afro that was greasy, especially since he didn’t shower during winning streaks) and he was involved in a lawsuit (Manning v. Grimsley) when he threw a baseball into the stands at Fenway Park in
1975 that injured a fan. Grimsley left Baltimore by free agency and had his best year ever with the Montreal Expos in 1979, finishing with a 20-11 record, 19 complete games and 3.81 earned run average. He finished 7th in the Cy Young voting that year. His career won-loss record was 124-99.
This lefthander was also a #1 pick for the Reds and made his debut in Cincinnati during the 1995 season. He didn’t stay long. In 32 innings pitched that year, Nitkowski was 1-3 with a 6.12 ERA. The Reds dispatched him to the Detroit Tigers in July 1995 needing a veteran pitcher for the stretch run and got David Wells. Nitkowski played for eight teams during his career, finishing with an 18-32 won-loss record and an ERA of 5.37.
Yet another first round draft choice by the Reds in 1999. Elbow and shoulder injuries ruined his career. He pitched 141 innings in Class A during the 2000 season and it was the most he would pitch in five seasons, finishing with a minor league record of 22-35. Howington and the other projected Red hurlers of that era — Bobby Basham, Chris
Gruler, Ryan Mottl and Dustin Moseley — reflect the bad scouting and drafting which essentially doomed the Reds for a decade after their magical 1999 season.
Reyes was a spot starter and reliever for the Reds. They acquired him in 1998 along with Paul Konerko for reliever Jeff Shaw. He was with Cincinnati for just three years before being traded to Colorado with Pokey Reese for Luke Hudson and Gabe White. In 15 years of pitching, Reyes had a 35-35 record.
Capilla was the second Hawaiian to play for the Reds, Mike Lum being the first. That was Capilla’s main claim to fame as a Red. Cincinnati got him from the Cardinals in 1977 for Rawly Eastwick. Capilla finished that season with a 7-8 record and a 4.23 ERA. The Reds eventually peddled him to the Cubs for a guy named Mark Gilbert and Capilla
was out of baseball after that season with a career record of 12-18.
And yet another #1 draft choice by the Reds in 1982. Jones lasted three seasons in the minor leagues, the end result being a 10-9 record, ERA of 5.33, 26 games started and one shutout. He never made the major leagues.
Manager Sparky Anderson would always talk about Young Don Gullett, Young Mr. Grimsley and Young Mel Behney during the 1970 season as the future of the Reds pitching staff. Behney was All Big 10 at Michigan State for two seasons and drafted in the first round by the Reds in 1968. He worked his way up to Cincinnati in a hurry and joined the team in August 1970 with the Reds comfortably in first place. His first appearance came in relief of Wayne Simpson and he got the loss against the Phillies. His first start came two weeks later against the Expos and he lost again. In 10 innings pitched, he was 0-2 with a 4.50 ERA. Young Mel Behney was cut in spring training in
both 1971 and 1972 and pitched in TripleA Indianapolis. The Reds traded him after the 1972 season to Boston for Phil Gagliano and Andy Kosco. This was a steal for Howsam because both were role players off the bench for the 1973 Reds that won the Western Division. Mel Behney pitched in Triple A for Boston that year and then retired,
never reaching the major leagues again.
Steve grew up in Cincinnati as a die-hard fan of Sparky’s Big Red Machine. After 25 years living outside of Ohio, mostly in Ann Arbor, he returned to the Queen City in 2004. He has resumed a first-person love affair with the Cincinnati Reds and is a season ticket holder at Great American Ball Park. The only place to find Steve’s thoughts of more than 140 characters is Redleg Nation. Follow his tweets @spmancuso.