Supervising a bullpen must often feel like being the president of a fraternity. Sometimes everyone pays their dues and agrees to pool money to buy toilet paper and disinfectant wipes. Sometimes an inebriated pledge falls through a glass table and the house cook uses expired tomato sauce while making spaghetti.

Reds manager Bryan Price cooked bad spaghetti on Opening Day by going to Kevin Gregg in the eighth inning with the Reds clinging to a 2-0 lead. I’ve thought about that decision — and written about its inherent misguidedness — since Monday, and the only plausible explanation I can think of for using Gregg in that scenario is that someone triple-dog dared Price that he wouldn’t use a 36-year-old with a career FIP of 4.16 to pitch the first meaningful bullpen innings of 2015.

Price was bailed out by Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman on Monday, but the second-year skipper came back strong Wednesday during the Reds’ marathon 5-4 win over Pirates.

With Mike Leake struggling with his control, Tony Cingrani was asked to play fireman during his debut as a bullpen-only asset with the club. With the bases loaded and two outs in the sixth inning, Cingrani struck out Pirates phenom Gregory Polanco with a diving four-seam fastball.

Burke Badenhop made first appearance as a Red in relief of Cingrani with Andrew McCutchen on second base and two outs in the seventh. Pinch hitter Corey Hart struck the first pitch Badenhop threw up the middle for a single, pushing Pittsburgh ahead 4-3. (Before cursing Badenhop, remember that Cingrani gave up a leadoff walk to McCutchen, and eventually balked Cutch to second base.)

Jumbo Diaz started slow in the eighth, falling behind Jordy Mercer 3-0, but recovered for clean inning.

Chapman entered in the ninth to face the heart of the Pirates’ order. After a leadoff single, Chapman induced two groundouts, then struck out Starling Marte on an 88 mph slider, an 88 mph changeup and a 100 mph thermonuclear fastball. (Life ain’t fair sometimes, even for pro ball players.)

J.J. Hoover finished out the game with two scoreless innings, a welcome sight for a guy who suffered mightily in 2014.

So, by 1:46 a.m. Thursday morning, the bullpen sins of Opening Day had been exorcised by Price pressing all the right buttons during Wednesday’s game.

The exorcism continued through Thursday’s 3-2 Reds victory. In relief of Anthony DeSclafani, Badenhop issued a leadoff walk to Tony Sanchez, the Pirates’ No. 8 hitter, to begin the seventh, but recovered to post a scoreless frame. Diaz pitched the eighth for the second straight game and struck out the side. Chapman did Chapman things in the ninth while striking out a pair.

It’s not just that the relievers Price has tabbed since Monday have done their job (for the most part), it’s that the relievers were seemingly comfortable and confident when they entered the game. Part of that credit goes to Price.

I (and many others) made a big deal out of Price going to Gregg on Monday, so I should make a big deal about his seamless handling of the ‘pen since, and not just because everyone did their job — it’s that Price’s bullpen maneuvering made proper baseball sense.

So, after a rough beginning, the bullpen is humming. Keep an eye out for who Price turns to tonight because Diaz and Chapman have pitched in each of the club’s first three games, and Badenhop has thrown in the last two.

16 Responses

  1. jdx19

    I’m hoping for a healthy dose of Cingrani tonight. I think he can be a real asset at 80+ IP this year. Likely, though, we’ll see Gregg since he’s the most rested of the BP arms. I just hope it isn’t in a close game!

    • Yippee

      With Marquis on the mound tonight, it probably won’t matter who comes in next. I hope I’m wrong.

  2. Farney

    I am curious to see our collective reaction had Hoover been lit up in that extra inning appearance. I think price has a lot of influence on the games outcome, but sometimes it just doesn’t go as planned. Maybe Hoover is back to being good this year, maybe he got lucky for two innings. Managers will never make perfect decisions because of the human element, luck, and randomness. That being said, managers should use trends and data to help predict outcomes. Also, the only time I want to see Gregg is if we are up by 4 or down by 5.

    • Eric the Red

      I admit to feeling scared when Hoover came back for his second inning. It seemed that was where he had a lot of trouble last year–he’d do OK for one inning, be called on to do more, and then get shelled. I wondered if Price would have pulled him if not for the day game looming in just a few hours.

    • tct

      When he brought Hoover in, the only other pitchers left were Gregg and Parra. So nobody could complain about that. Also, Hoover is a lot different than Gregg in that Hoover actually has decent stuff and misses bats. JJ also has a track record of recent sucess, in 2012 and 2013 that Gregg doesnt have.

      • docmike

        This. Hoover really does have good stuff. He has had a K/9 rate of over 9 every season. I personally believe he had a lot of bad luck last year, and I look for a good year in 2015.

      • gaffer

        Players have to perform, but the Gregg issue IMO was not picthing him at all (but it was very questionable) but leaving him in to pitch to Mcutchen, after 4 rockets.

    • Jeremy Conley

      As long as JJ Hoover is one of the last guys out of the pen, he’s fine with me. He’s not as bad as he was last year, and not as good as he has been in other year.

      The thing about Hoover, and why he shouldn’t ever be considered as a setup guy or closer is that he walks a lot of guys and is an extreme flyball pitcher. In our park that will never be a recipe for success, especially in situations where you are consistently asked to protect a one run game or tie.

      Of all relievers over the last 3 seasons (2012-2015) Hoover has the second lowest groundball rate (28.9%). That is extreme. He gets a lot of strikeouts, but he also walks about 4 per 9. That means that there are going to be guys on base via walk nearly half the time he pitches, and a lot of balls heading for the outfield.

      Until he a) learns to get more groundballs, b) learns to walk people like Sean Doolittle (also an extreme flyball pitcher but 1.61 walks per 9) or c) learns to strike people out at something near Chapman’s rate, he just will not be an elite reliever.

  3. seat101

    I believe Brian Price figured using Gregg then and there was the cheapest, fastest way to show WJ the Gregg does not belong on the 25 man roster.

    If Gregg is released or demoted before the end of April that will be strong circumstantial evidence that I am correct.

  4. seat101

    I can think of no other sane reason that would cause the manager to use that pitcher in that situation.

    Except for the triple dog dare, of course.

  5. kmartin

    I see Cingrani, Diaz, and Chapman as the new “nasty boys.” Cingrani maps to Charlton, both left handed, both starters and relievers. Diaz a big right hander, maps to Dibble another larger than life right hander. Finally, Chapman maps to Randy Myers. Both left handed and kind of quirky.

  6. Janet

    Badenhop pitched in two games, not three.

  7. unc reds fan

    I agree with you that we will need all our relief pitchers this season, I think the bigger issue is that Gregg and Parra are options to begin with. Hopefully with Homer’s return one of those two will no longer be on the team, but that may be optimistic as it is just as likely they send Igleasis back to the minors

  8. BigRedMachine

    I think this is 100% correct. I think it is too much to expect Price to switch over to a “numbers” guy completely and all at once. He definitely is doing things the numbers say to do–Votto batting 2nd, Phillips batting 7th, swapping Bruce/Byrd depending on the handedness of the opposing starter. That he still makes a few decisions based on gut is for sure not my biggest worry about the Reds this year.

  9. Chris Miller

    Steve, I agree with that theory, and I’ll add, it being the 1st game of the season made it almost like a playoff game, so Price probably felt his youngsters might be a bit nervous. Rightly or wrongly, I believe that’s why Price went that route.