Barring injury or a (major) last-minute acquisition, we can safely assume who’ll be the Redlegs’ starting pitchers for all three games of this season’s opening series against the Pirates. What’s less clear, of course, is who starts games four and five when the Cardinals come into town for opening weekend.

Manager Bryan Price has already called Tony Cingrani and Anthony DeSclafani (the Ani Brothers…?) the favorites to nab the spots, but Dylan Axelrod will head into Spring Training hoping to change the skipper’s mind.

Axelrod, a 29-year-old – he’ll turn 30 on July 30th – right-hander, pitched in five games – four starts – for the Reds last year. Although a newcomer to the Reds organization, Axelrod has seen big league action in each of the past four seasons, three as a member of the White Sox. Having played professionally for nearly eight years, Axelrod is as known an entity as the Reds have battling for one of those final spots in the rotation.

Axelrod has fought his way to the big leagues. Undrafted and lightly-recruited out of high school, he played two years of ball at Santa Barbara City College, where he accumulated a then-school-record 117 strikeouts in his two seasons with the team. Following two seasons at UC-Irvine, the Padres took a flyer on him, making Axelrod a 30th round selection. After a couple of seasons as a Rookie- and A-leaguer reliever in the Padres organization, he was let go in 2009. Following a short stint with the Windy City Thunderbolts of the Frontier League, he signed with the White Sox and began his ascent to the majors.

In his three-and-a-half year climb through the White Sox organization, he posted an above average K/9 (around 8) and FIP (below 3), finally making his Major League debut in late 2011. Axelrod didn’t see significant time in the majors until 2013, when he pitched in 30 games – 20 starts – for the White Sox, where his production slipped (K/9 dropped to 5.12 and FIP rose to 5.44). He started 2014 in AAA with the White Sox before the Reds acquired him in July of last year, spending much of his time in Louisville before that handful of late-season starts with the Reds.

Since 2009, the scouting report on Axelrod has been pretty consistent. He’s on the small side (6’1”, 190), with a fastball around 90 and a solid slider. Most around baseball have classified him as “big league ready” since then, but with a ceiling as a number five starter and with limited upside. He’s certainly outperformed his draft position – but he’s also pitched enough professionally for us to know what we’re getting. Axelrod’s career line, over parts of four seasons in the big leagues is: 6.3 K/9, 3.20 BB/9, .317 BABIP, 5.13 FIP, and ERA+ around 85. He has proven himself to be a below-average MLB starter who can start a game in a pinch – he performed admirably for the Reds over 18 innings last year, averaging almost 10 K/9 and only 2 BB/9, with an ERA+ of 125 – but not one capable of performing consistently over the course of a full season.

The guess here is that Axelrod starts the season in Louisville and is a guy the Reds feel like they can count on for a couple spot starts should the injury bug strike again.