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.
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.
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 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.
|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.
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.
|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.