The Reds have seemingly come around to giving Michael Lorenzen another chance to start (C. Trent Rosecrans reporting), and after watching their current crop of young pitcher’s struggle, can you blame them? Lorenzen is a five-pitch pitcher who has proven he can get Major Leaguers out. Several of his peers – Cody Reed, Robert Stephenson, Amir Garrett – have not had the same success to this point.
Several Redleg Nation writers have pushed hard for the Reds to reconsider Lorenzen’s role; I’ve been chief among them. Obviously, he isn’t a sure thing, but we won’t know until the Reds give him a shot. Right now, it appears Lorenzen will begin Spring Training 2018 as a starter.
But I’d argue that the Redlegs should use this disappointing season to collect data on Lorenzen in a starting role for several reasons.
The Reds may have more competition in the spring and won’t get enough data to properly evaluate Lorenzen as a starter. The following pitchers will likely be competing for or assured a rotation spot during Spring Training:
- Homer Bailey
- Anthony Desclafani
- Brandon Finnegan
- Amir Garrett
- Cody Reed
- Robert Stephenson
- Sal Romano
- Tyler Mahle
- Luis Castillo
- Michael Lorenzen
That leaves out Rookie Davis, who doesn’t even crack Doug Gray’s top 25 Reds’ prospects and probably isn’t on the same level as the guys on this list. Jackson Stephens could unexpectedly force the issue as well.
Yes, Desclafani still might have surgery at some point. Finnegan and Bailey are also injury concerns. That’s still a lot of guys to sort through.
Currently, that traffic is a little lighter. Garrett and Reed are busy in AAA trying to recapture the magic that made them top prospects. Stephenson and Romano are in the Majors but showing plenty of growing pains. Desclafani is still a few weeks away, and Finnegan won’t pitch again this season.
Those factors have led to Tim Adleman making 19 starts this season. He has had his moments, but he’s posted a 5.54 ERA and 5.19 xFIP since the beginning of May. Adleman hasn’t been adequate in quite a while and has zero future in a winning rotation, though I think he could succeed in a relief role.
Adelman is decent the first time through the order, posting a 4.35 ERA with a 25.7 K%. After that, lineups leave a pile of wreckage so high that the Big Red Machine would struggle to dig themselves free.
If the Reds could get Lorenzen starting now in Adleman’s spot, they could get a jump start on starting pitching decisions for 2018 and a look at Adelman in a multi-inning relief role.
They do not, however, need to send Lorenzen to the minor leagues to do it. While he will require some stretching out, his usage this season, as well as the presence of Adleman on the roster, means he could go into the rotation immediately.
How? Lorenzen has already thrown as many as 46 pitches in an appearance this season. He has pitched multiple innings eleven times. It’s not a stretch (haha) to say that Lorenzen could throw 50 pitches in a start right now.
That’s where Adleman comes in. The Reds should start Lorenzen and let him throw three or four innings and around 50 pitches. They can then bring in Adleman for 2-4 innings to save the bullpen. During Lorenzen’s next start, he can pitch around 65-70 pitches, and Adleman can again come in for a couple innings. After another start or two, Lorenzen will be stretched out.
The Reds should not have a problem with a tired bullpen. If something goes awry, the Reds can continue to play musical chairs with relievers in Louisville as Austin Brice, Ariel Hernandez, Kevin Shackelford, and Barrett Astin will all be available. Asher Wojciechowski can also throw multiple innings during the transition.
With this plan, the Reds will get a look at Lorenzen as a starter with his cutter and sinker, which he didn’t have in 2015. And again, Adleman will get a chance to show he can fill a long term role as well.
Lorenzen has already begun using his repertoire like a starter and wouldn’t need to change the way he pitches. As you can see in the chart below, he is mixing in his breaking and offspeed stuff more and more as the season progresses.
As he has gained confidence in his secondary pitches, he has begun to strikeout more batters. Lorenzen’s K% has risen to 25% in July, his best strikeout month of the season.
Maybe the Reds are concerned about his health with a mid-season transition. They could reasonably want to get him through the year in the bullpen to see how his elbow holds up before preparing him for more innings in the offseason.
I’m not sold on that though. Dick Williams stated they wanted to get Lorenzen 100 plus innings this year, which isn’t happening with his current usage because he only has 54.1 innings so far. If they were really concerned about his elbow, they probably wouldn’t have set that lofty goal.
If Lorenzen starts this week, he will likely get only 10-11 starts. Because of the transition starts, he will accrue roughly 50-60 more innings and finish the season around 105-115. That’s well within the range they discussed for Lorenzen, even if he accumulates them differently than they anticipated.
When Desclafani and Feldman return, the Reds will need to make other rotation decisions. I hope they don’t waste anymore valuable starts on Feldman in a lost season unless they think he can rebuild trade valuable and get a decent return (I have my doubts). When Disco arrives, they may send a young guy back down who is struggling or running up against an innings limit. Maybe they go to a six man rotation to ease Disco back into the fold after two seasons of injuries. Regardless, the Reds shouldn’t wait to replace Adelman.
With two months to go, the Reds have few answers to their starting pitching questions. Now is the time to get some of those answers, and it should begin with Michael Lorenzen. If he shows promise, the Reds can use the offseason to consider other options for the bullpen. It’s time to #FreeLorenzen.