Last month I discussed what a starting pitching rotation needs to accomplish to successfully complete its role. The conclusion of the post was that the future of the Reds rotation was in the hands of their young arms. If you missed that post or want to refresh your memory, you can read it here. Today let’s take a more focused look at how those young arms are progressing as the season pushes past the first quarter  mark.

Luis Castillo

After struggling early, Luis Castillo has gone a long way toward quieting the disquieting thoughts that his 2017 debut might turn out to be a one hit wonder. Here’s how Castillo has performed since his debacle in Minnesota on April 27, compared to his entire 2018 season.

Time Frame Games IP FIP HR/9 K/9 BB/9
2018 Season 9 46.1 4.94 1.94 8.94 2.91
May 2-13 3 17.2 3.94 2.04 11.21 1.02

Castillo is still getting nicked for long balls a bit more than we’d like; but, as Reds fans learned watching Johnny Cueto for years, if the damage is limited by keeping guys otherwise off the bases, home runs don’t have to define a pitcher’s success or failure. Castillo’s big moves in a positive direction with his K/9 and BB/9 rates have paid those dividends for him. The next step for Castillo is to kick up his stamina and pitch efficiency to burst though the six-inning ceiling.

Tyler Mahle

Tyler Mahle appears to be off to a solid beginning to what will hopefully be a long and very successful career in the Reds rotation. Keep in mind that Mahle at 23 years of age is nearly 2 full years younger than Luis Castillo and a year younger than Sal Romano. Here are his comparative 2018 season and stats for his most recent four starts.

Time Frame Games IP FIP HR/9 K/9 BB/9
2018 Season 9 47.2 5.01 1.89 8.69 3.02
April 29-May 15 4 20.2 4.60 1.31 6.53 3.05

Mahle’s most recent start at San Francisco was his poorest outing of the season. He was reported to be battling illness that day and had thrown 109 pitches in Los Angeles during his prior start both of which may have impacted that performance. Still, his numbers over the last four games are on a par to perhaps stronger than his full season totals. It is worth noting that in two of his four most recent starts, he pitched a total of 11.1 innings and allowed neither a home run nor any other earned runs. His BB/9 rate and recently-decreased K/9 rate, however, are a bit puzzling and troubling. Like Castillo, Mahle needs to focus on increasing his pitch efficiency and pushing through the six-inning barrier.

Sal Romano

In the eyes of many Reds fans, Sal Romano has been seen as the less equal of the three young Reds right handers attempting to become rotation stalwarts. The biggest knock on Romano has been his inconsistency. It seems like one way or another, he ends up struggling to get through five innings, which just doesn’t cut it as an MLB starter. Here are Romano’s numbers for his most recent starts versus 2018 to date.

Time Frame Games IP FIP HR/9 K/9 BB/9
2018 Season 9 44.2 5.27 1.41 5.64 3.83
April 28-May 15 4 18.1 4.56 0.98 5.89 3.44

Romano has not been a five-inning pitcher this season. Regardless, his recent and seasonal FIP are not out of line with Castillo’s or Mahle’s. He actually gives up fewer HR/9 than either of the other two. His BB/9 is the worst of the three; however, the big bugaboo is that he just doesn’t stay in games long enough. In nine starts, he has gone beyond 5.0 innings just four times and failed to make it to the fifth inning three times. He has to become more consistent and pitch-efficient if he is to avoid eventually being bumped to the bullpen.

Who Fills Out The Rotation?

It appears that in Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, and Sal Romano the Reds may be closing in on having three rotation spots filled, barring injury, for the next competitive cycle. Castillo and Mahle are close to establishing themselves as (at least) solid middle-of-the-rotation pitchers with a chance to be even more, if they can learn to navigate facing the top of opposition’s lineup the third time in a game. If Romano can get into the sixth inning regularly, he should suffice as at least a bottom end guy.

Thus the question becomes who fills out the rotation and provides depth?

Amir Garrett is performing admirably in the MLB bullpen. Many fans want to see him elevated to the rotation, but the team and Garrett himself seem satisfied with his current situation. Yet, if a guy says he is happy in the pen, he may know something about his suitability as a starter that we don’t, particularly a guy like Garrett who has a long history of being a starter in the minors and made 14 MLB starts last season. Still, there remains a chance that, like some other guys who have become pretty fair MLB starters, Garrett may use the bullpen to figure out what troubles him and eventually be ready to give starting another go.

Two guys who have made no bones about wanting to be starters are currently in the AAA Louisville rotation, Robert Stephenson and Brandon Finnegan. In the best of all worlds the light will go in Stephenson’s mind, and he will develop the mental game to match his physical stuff. I still believe before all is said and done, Stephenson is likely to be an average or better MLB pitcher for somebody. I’m finished holding my breath for this to happen with the Reds. As for Finnegan, he has had a trial of more than a season as an MLB starter and come up short to date. Maybe his health gets right and he makes it, but again, don’t bet too much on his chances.

Michael Lorenzen? Much as I like him, he has to prove he can stay on the field as an effective reliever before they even think about starting him again. Cody Reed? At this point, your guess is as good as mine, but he is in the rotation at Louisville. As I see things, that’s about it for the field north of Class A+ where Tony Santillan leads the way.

When push comes to shove, Dick Williams is probably going to have to shell out money for free agents or trade talent to fill out his rotation for 2020 and 2021.

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Join the conversation! 46 Comments

  1. Did you forget about Desclafani?

    • Disco cannot be counted on for the future rotation. He’s pitched half a season since the end of 2015. He will be out of team control after the 2020 season, healthy or not. I addressed this in the post I wrote last month which is linked at the top of this post.

  2. To answer the immediate question, no, the rotation is not rounding into form. Homer Bailey is in the rotation.

    • Bob Steve pitched 5 innings last night in a rain delayed game. He threw 74 pitches of which 54 were strikes. 7K’s; 0, yes 0 BB; 7hits; 2 runs both earned. If he can put a couple of more starts like this together, I would hope he gets the nod over Disco for Homer’s spot; but; they will probably drop Disco into Homer’s slot and give RS or whoever is the hottest at AAA Harvey’s spot when he is flipped.

      If they get to the end of 2018 with Harvey, Homer, and Disco all three in the rotation or even 2 of them, it will be a setback for the future unless Harvey is pitching well and has been extended on reasonable terms for the team

      • Doesn’t Harvey need to be extended or traded by August 1?

        Having him make August and September starts for this team would be a crime (unless he is extended)

  3. The season is 1/4 over. The real question is can the Reds starting rotation be ready in 2019 to overtake the Brewers, Cards, and Cubs such that the Reds are playing in October in 2019?

    There’s no way a year from now the Reds are 25-17 and in first place preparing for a postseason run.

    • I’m taking a long view. Perhaps my headline title does not make that clear; but, I think the body of the post does.

      A rotation is not something that is built in a year for a year. That’s something that has become clear to Reds fans over the last several seasons.

      I’m looking at where the Reds might be in 2020-21 and beyond when there depth of talent starts hitting MLB.
      There was a chance to have a bridge window of borderline contention last year and this year; but the team chose not to pursue the pitching to make that run. Now they what appears to be three viable long term candidates for a window opening in 2020/21 as I see it.

      • I agree with your time frame and think it’s time the entire organization focus it’s efforts on 2020 and beyond.

    • Agreed. 2020 even looks to be an optimistic view unless they trade for or sign, probably 2 capable, established pieces for the rotation. If not, hopefuls like Santillan and Mella will just be getting their feet wet in 2020.

  4. What about Disco?

    • I believe Disco’s window to be a part of the next good Reds team has passed. His health is problematical; and he will be out of team control at the end of 2020, unless extended at open market prices which means if he is pitching good he will be expensive and a health risk . I see the best case scenario with Disco being then same as with Harvey. Hope he hit the mound running and will bring a nice return at the deadline to a team in contention that views him primarily as a rental to help their 2018 playoff run.

      Have to remember with Disco that his history is that if and when he is healthy and pitching he is good; but once he is shut down at the end of a season, it is a high odds lottery when he will be able to crank back up and pitch every 5th day. Three years running now he will have taken at least to the 1/3 mark of the season to be ready.

  5. Agreed with this article. We’re probably just going to need to find 2-3 good starters, and we could have a nice team. Hunter Greene could be there in a a couple of years, and we’ll find another one after the upcoming mini-rebuild (prob moving more than one of Duvall, Scooter, Schebler, Hamilton, etc).

  6. I think the best starting prospects of the bunch are Garrett and Disco.

  7. Hows about Keury Mella and Justin Nicolino? Mella looks like he could be a solid 3, possibly 2 guy. And Nicolino might be suitable to take the ball every 5th day. So, Castillo, Mahle, Mella, Romano and Nicolino. Not an overly intimidating rotation, but if these guys continue to develop and we shore up CF and the middle infield, the offense should be able to produce enough to make the Reds competitive most nights. And the bullpen, so far, looks to be a surprising strength with Garrett, a healthy Lorenzen, Iglesias, etc. Unless of course Iglesias gets dealt, but for the moment anyway, a strength…

    • Nicolino is interesting. He has had some ML experience, and it was not impressive, at all. Having said that, sometimes it take a guy a while to adjust.
      I see him, at best, as another Dan Strailly. Or he is just one of many AAAA level pitchers, who look good at AAA, but can never make the ML transition. Like Lisalverto Bonilla last year. Others come to mind. Some guys just cannot make the jump.

  8. As others have stated, I see Castillo and Mahle at the top of a five man rotation. If Romano keeps progressing, he could be the fifth starter. Bailey and Henry block the young pitchers as long as they’re around. Things could change if the front office is active in trades, spending money or the DFA route. For this season and the next, the pitching kerfuffle will probably continue.

  9. Today’s games, with Castillo and Romano starting against our primary divisional rival, will offer important information about how well they’re coming along.

    • Definitely. That Dodger series may turn out to have been a false positive!

      • No, not false positive. But the Dodgers are not at full strength right now, and really, not very good. The Dodgers are who they are, and this is not the Dodger team from 2017.
        The luck of the draw. You play hot teams, you play cold teams. In six weeks, the Dodger may be playing a lot better.

  10. The Reds paid a ton (and even greater opportunity cost) for those two no-hitters.

    • But I think there is a reasonable case to make that Homer’s contract made sense at the time. Cueto was actually the one who looked to be more of a long term injury risk when Homer got his deal. And if the Reds had held their money and somehow landed Cueto on an extension look where they would be now.

      To me the biggest mistake they made in that era was not extending Mike Leake when he was publicly almost begging to be re-signed at the end of the 2014 season. He’s the guy who was affordable and would have provided rotation stability while they retooled.

      • Signing Leake to an extention was a possibility, but giving up a 7th season of team control was inexcusable, even as a super 2 player. The biggest problem was being forced into a situation of having to extend Cueto or Baliey because no plan was in place to extend the competitive timeframe for the starting rotation. WJ and BC created a starting rotation with a limited 4-season (2012-2015) competitive period and did nothing to deal with the abrupt end to the 4-season period. There was simply nothing available after the 2015 season unless an extention was completed for Bailey or Cueto and such an extention would have to be at FA prices. WJ and BC backed themselves into that corner.

        • The Reds have done a lot that I haven’t been happy with, but I don’t really agree that there was no plan in place for the rotation. Barring injuries, the Reds would have had a rotation of Cueto, Leake, Homer, Desclafani, and Iglesias as an opening day rotation, with BobSteve having just completed a full year in AA. Obviously things didn’t work out, but that would have been a pretty good rotation.

        • This is exactly why I’m a grumpy old Reds Fan! “WJ and BC created a starting rotation with a limited 4-season (2012-2015) competitive period and DID NOTHING to deal with the abrupt end to the 4-season period.”

      • I think you hit on the key of the Red’s current pitching situation which is not extending Mike Leake. But as in life, it’s always easier in retrospect. Hopefully this can be rectified by acquiring a stabilizing starting pitcher by the start of the 2019 season.

      • Cueto big part of the Royals winning the series in 2015. He was in contention for CyYoung in 2015 as a Red until the disruption to KC occurred. 2016 Cueto had a CyYoung contention year for the Giants. 2017 started well until the blistering occurred with the newer slicker baseballs. 2018 was again a top pitcher in baseball until the elbow strain cropped up. No way around it – until the Reds extended Homer Johnny Cueto was the far superior pitcher by performance, at the time of the signing Cueto was superior by potential going forward, and since the signing by what they’ve accomplished since the extension.

        • Except Cueto was dealing with an oblique injury. It kept him out of the 2012 playoffs and limited his 2013 starts. When Bailey was signed after 2013, Cueto had just made 11 starts and missed the 2012 postseason. Bailey had made 32 starts and 33 + a postseason start the season before. Cueto was a superior pitcher as far as performance but it wasn’t by a gigantic margin. He also was a question mark as far as injury susceptibility.

          Yes, it would have been smarter to sign Cueto but it wasn’t as cut and dry as people seem to make it seem looking at it in hindsight.

    • False narrative. The 2 no-hitters probably factored into the contract as they showed that when it was all working, Bailey had ace potential. The Reds however, paid for the 400+ innings of better-than-average starting pitching (ERA+ ~110) over 66 starts the prior two years. Those numbers suggested that Bailey was a #2 starter who could match up with ace pitchers on any given day and beat them. He also excelled against the Giants in the post-season just prior to the extension.

  11. “Rounding into form”? Certainly not. With young inexperienced sp prospects you get volatility. Volatity is saw-toothed, not smooth-curved rounding. Lots of ups & downs. I’m still optimistic about the staff, mostly because of the improvement in the bullpen. I doubt the Reds have committed Garrett to the bullpen for good, & we may yet see him in the rotation come September or in 2019. As for Finnegan, Stephenson, & Reed- who knows? Lorenzen is very unlikely to ever be a starter. DeSclafani is almost as unlikely. With a couple of these guys, options are becoming an issue. I doubt the rotation will be “rounded into shape” this season.

    • Yeah, with the departure of Bryan Price, I think the Mike Lorenzen experiment is over. I would rather see him play centerfield than have him try and be a starting pitcher again. He runs good and could be a good centerfielder, by the way.

      • If the Reds had started him off in CF in the minors perhaps. They could send him back to the minors a la Rick Ankiel and get him up to speed but to what end? By the time he got his hitting stroke down and got reacquainted w/ CF enough to play it at the MLB level, he’d be a free-agent.

        • LW, for once I am not going to take the bait. Good observation about the window being past because off service time issues. JW

  12. I agree with a lot of the above. The answer to the question posed in the headline seems to be no. Castillo is developing into a top of the rotation starter, but is he going to be good enough to be a ‘1’? Mahle may well be a 3rd or 4th starter, but Romano doesn’t seem to have the pitches to sustain his time in the rotation. That leaves us with… a bunch of question marks, just like we had at this point last year. We seem to have answers for 40% of the rotation.

    Stephenson shows flashes, but I’m past the point of getting excited by one or two good starts in the minors. When he makes 5-10 consecutive starts with low walk numbers, then I’ll start paying attention.

  13. Actually, This article isn’t giving me much hope at all about the future of this rotation. Some people say that they enjoy watching young players develop but not me. I find it absolutely excruciating (especially pitchers) bcuz it seems as if they’ll never get it. Some do, of course, but it’s so hard to see any possible future sometimes when these young pitchers struggle so badly. I hate waiting for young players to develop. There is no possible alternate reality where I could see and/or understand the crowd that actually enjoys watching young plyrs develop. That crowd might as well be speaking Chinese or something. Completely foreign concept to me that I’ll never ever understand.

  14. We will know more around September of this year.I fully expect the 3 guys mentioned to develop into at least league average starters.I also think Garrett and Finny(if his velocity returns to 94 or 95) can become starters as well.Bob/Steve has in my opinion the best swing and miss stuff of the group but we know he will not get another chance until he lowers his walk rate.His case is a battle of wills and he will lose even though he won’t be traded because well the Reds know what we know in that his stuff is electric and somebody else will grab him in a heart beat and give him a shot in the majors.Homer’s stuff is still at 94 or 95 and who knows what Disco may do.

  15. 2021 reds rotation
    1. FA
    2. Castillo
    3.FA
    4.mahle
    5. FA/ Romano

    Disco, Finnegan, Reed, Bailey distant memories
    Garret seems to be better suited for the bullpen to me because of his intense demeanor.
    Lorenzen and Stephenson deserve a look as a starter.
    Greene needs to be an everyday player at ss.

    • I always worry about players who supposedly are prospects in the field as well as the mound. Maybe we will catch lightning in a bottle. Maybe we will have a player who never really makes it at either position.
      As far as the rotation goes, we are at a very low point in the history of this franchise and do not appear to be anywhere near getting the rotation sorted out. I have little hope for most of the AAA pitching prospects. The Reds are just a bad franchise getting worse rather than better.

  16. I think Castillo and Mahle have shown enough to be optimistic about their long term prospects. Romano, I’m squinting hard and still don’t see it yet. Last night’s start was brutal. Leadoff man on every inning (save one maybe?) and several of those via the walk. Hard to watch and definitely not a step in the right direction. Right now I’d rather see Reed getting those starts than Big Sal. And I’m not quite ready to give up on Bob Steve, but my solution would be unorthodox. Every pitcher will walk an occasional batter. Look at some of Votto’s at bats – he earns the walk more often than the pitcher just gifts it to him. But I’d give Stephenson the ball and say “Okay, throw strikes. If you give up hits that’s fine. But the first time you walk a batter before you get strike two, you’re done. We’ll get someone up in the bullpen the second you throw ball four.” Then pull him as soon as the reliever is ready. If he can learn that lesson at AAA then I think he can succeed in Cincinnati. But until / unless he does learn he’s a wash out. Time to get serious about that lesson.

  17. 2020 or later on this rebuild *face-palm* … I’m not sure I’m still on-board by then. This season has been a struggle to stay engaged and I’m about as big a fan as there is among my friends, family, and co-workers; most of whom have already checked out.

    • I totally agree. Especially when you see rivals like the Cards bringing up young pitchers like Jack Flaherty and Alex Reyes. Hitters like DeJong or this O’Neill guy that come up and do immediate damage. They’re obviously drafting on the other end of the scale compared to the Reds and still crush us in every phase of the game? Sad. Mahle looks worn down already. Senzel has vertigo. That light at the end of the tunnel is definitely the train!

      • I don’t know if they draft better or if they simply develop a whole lot better. I lean towards the latter. You see guys that the Cards bring up though and generally, these guys are able to contribute and sometimes they are really special players. They don’t keep the ones that aren’t or don’t do things the Cardinals way. Colby Rasmus is a prime example there.

        I think things are improving in Reds farm land but it still seems like they have a long, long way to go in development of players. Some of it may be attributed to a difference in luck but one can’t contribute the entire disparity to luck.

    • Ah, we may be checked out but we can never leave, right?!? Org gets it right, we (they) will be back.

      Otherwise I agree. Watched Caps and Lightning last night and couldn’t help but thinking what might have been had one of those CBJ pipe ringers bounced in; and that’s a month in the past now. How far back to a Reds moment like that, 2012?

      • Yeah, the rare Rolen error and then, that great AB by Jay Bruce where I thought for sure that ball was going to go out. It wasn’t close but the longer that AB went on, the more sure I was something big was going to happen… That was over 5 years ago now.

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