In the days leading up to Opening Day, we’ll be previewing The State Of The Reds at every single position on the field. Check out the previous installments of our Redleg Nation 2018 Season Preview series:
Starting pitching is a key pillar of all successful major league teams. If the starting pitching does not consistently maintain control of games, no amount of offense, defense, and bullpen work can salvage a respectable season for a team. In 2018, at least the third full year of the current rebuilding cycle, what is the outlook for the Reds starting pitching? Let’s start by looking at the recent past.
2017- Foundation or Ruins?
At times, the situation in 2017 seemed like total chaos as the 16 players were used as starting pitchers. After having two 30-game starters in 2016 — after having one in 2015 — the Reds had no pitcher make more than 21 starts in 2017, and just two pitchers make as many as 20 starts. Neither of these men return in 2018. In fact, half the pitchers who made starts for the Reds last year, representing about 44% of the total starts, are no longer with the organization. With no starting pitching having been brought into the organization over the off season and no starting candidates who were not on the MLB roster or DL at the end of 2017, the road to consistency and reliability seems very steep in 2018.
The Plan for 2018
During the off season, Reds manager Bryan Price indicated four men had an inside track to being in the 2018 rotation. Rotation holdovers Luis Castillo (15 Games Started/ 3.74 FIP in 2017) and Homer Bailey (18 GS/4.90 FIP in 2017) topped Price’s list, followed by two pitchers projected to be healthy after having their 2017 seasons ended by injuries very early on: Anthony DeSclafani (20 GS/3.96 FIP in 2016) and Brandon Finnegan (31 GS/ 5.19 FIP in 2016).
Price foresaw the battle for the final rotation spot being among Sal Romano (16 GS/4.24 FIP in 2017), Robert Stephenson (11 GS/ 4.92 FIP in 2017), Tyler Mahle (4 GS/ 4.01 FIP in 2017), Michael Lorenzen — a reliever since an inconclusive 21 game starting stint in 2015 — and “others”. Notably not called out by name as rotation contenders were lefties Amir Garrett and Cody Reed. Follow-up comments by Price inferred that one or both of these pitchers were now being looked at as relievers since the Reds are markedly short handed from the left-hand side in the bullpen.
What’s Happened In Spring Camp
Castillo and Bailey have gotten their work done in preparation for the regular season. Write these two names into the rotation with ink. Yes, Bailey has been less than impressive this spring, but he says he is healthy and he looks healthy. Thus, as long as he takes the ball every 5 days and avoids multiple total meltdowns he will be in the rotation.
DeSclafani is out of the rotation mix for now because he has been struck (again) by the injury bug. As you probably know, Disco’s injury is a strained left oblique, the same general injury which cost him nearly half of his 2016 season. Given his past history with the similar injury, scratch him from the rotation for the foreseeable future.
Finnegan was also injured again. Finnegan’s injury was described as a triceps strain. The team and the player are optimistic it will be very short-term. In fact, he is continuing to do baseball work and pitched 2 innings in a minor league game on March 20. Bryan Price has held out hope that Finnegan may be ready to slot into the 5th spot of the rotation by the second week of April, which would the first time a fifth starter is definitely “needed”.
And so, it turns out there is a competition for at least 2 and perhaps 3 rotation slots, with three players seeming to have separated themselves from the pack. Sal Romano has had a good spring and appears to have nailed down a spot. Amir Garret, just as he did last season, has posted a monster spring to project himself into forefront of rotation consideration. Tyler Mahle has been arguably as good as Garrett; but the pesky issue of service time and years of player control could temporarily deny him the prize of a spot in the rotation.
As for the rest of the field? Robert Stephenson has had a typically unimpressive Robert Stephenson spring . Nonetheless, bear in mind when he was put into the rotation last season because there was no one else, he did a credible job over the final 2 months. Cody Reed had a rough early go this spring but has looked better of late. However, with Amir Garrett most likely destined to make the rotation, chances are even greater than previously that Reed becomes a lefty out of the bullpen.
Michael Lorenzen has joined the ranks of the injured. The team reports he has a Grade 1 strain of his teres major in his throwing shoulder and has been shut down from pitching activities. While the team is downplaying the seriousness of the injury, it would seem to end Lorenzen’s chances to become a starting pitcher in 2018.
And In The End
The most likely scenario is that Sal Romano and Amir Garrett take the third and fourth spots in the rotation behind Homer Bailey and Luis Castillo. Intrigue then ensues over who gets the fifth spot. The Reds seem to be pushing to give Brandon Finnegan every opportunity to take it. The suspicion here is that since the Reds have done little or nothing to indicate they are seriously interested in competing for a playoff spot in 2018, they would prefer to maintain the “extra” year of control which could be gained over Tyler Mahle by leaving him in the minors long enough to keep him at less than a full year of service time at season’s end. Given the service time Mahle accrued in September of 2017, that works out to sometime in May for his MLB arrival. If Finnegan is not ready when needed or anyone else comes up lame before then, there is always Robert Stephenson (again). But need I say that already the depth looks just sidewalk mud puddle deep, and that does not portend good things with 162 games ahead.
Late Breaking News
Based on roster moves made by the Reds late Thursday which included Robert Stephenson being optioned to AAA, it appears that Tyler Mahle will in fact make the Reds rotation out of camp. While nothing has been officially announced as of yet, apparently Amir Garrett will be the odd man out if Brandon Finnegan is ready to make the start on the first occasion a 5th starter is required early in the second week of April.