Thoughts about a few current events:

The Votto-Cueto Moment

Last year it was Todd Frazier’s heart-pounding win in the Home Run Derby – the highlight of an otherwise dreary season for Reds fans. Joey Votto’s second at bat against Johnny Cueto last night wasn’t on that grand of a stage. But at least to this fan, it shared the same resonance. I’ll be surprised if that moment doesn’t end up near or at the head of every “Top Moments of the 2016 Reds Season” list. Maybe that entire 6-run inning qualifies. An oasis of victory in a sea of defeat.

The May 2 game was part of my season package, but I’d have purchased a ticket to watch that match up regardless. When Cueto took the mound for the first time, I stood up and cheered. But after that, I wanted the Reds to beat him. Even more, the raw energy of Cueto’s man-on-man challenge with Votto was discernible. Cueto had struck out Votto quite neatly in the first inning. But the second round took place with two runners on and the Reds down 3-1. Votto’s towering, hair-raising home run put the Reds ahead. What was especially crazy was that Votto did it with a two-strike count. That means Joey Votto hit the ball far over the center field fence choked up like a Little Leaguer. As Mike Maffie wrote last year, Joey Votto is dangerous until he’s left the batter’s box.

Devin Mesoraco and Injuries

The club didn’t make a mistake with the timing of Devin Mesoraco’s surgery last year. There is zero evidence that delaying his surgery by a few weeks affected his return this year. Any such assertion is rank speculation born of understandable frustration with the team’s tidal wave of injuries. Mesoraco was having trouble at the plate but that was due to facing major league pitching for the first time in a year (plus the shoulder injury). It wasn’t due to a late rehab period from delaying his hip surgery. The Pirates have kept their starting shortstop Jung Ho Kang on an extended stay in AAA to let him get used to playing every day again. He was sidelined mid-season last year. Mesoraco barely hit last year.

Devin Mesoraco was as physically ready as possible for spring training and the start of the season. Every expert (remember, he received surgical care from a New York specialist) said the timing of his surgery would allow full rehab. Mesoraco reported that as well, as spring training started. Difficulty arrived when the tough starting pitching appeared. Moving his surgery up a month would not have moved facing opposing starting pitching up a month. A rough start in April was likely no matter whether the surgery had happened in May or June. The only mistake the Reds made with Mesoraco last year was having him test his hip right before a string of AL-city games where he could have been the designated hitter. But that hurt the team, not Mesoraco’s long-term health. There’s no connection between his hip injury last year and labrum tear this year.

The Reds have no reason to delay Mesoraco’s labrum surgery, other than Devin’s state of mind. And that’s a valid consideration, but in the short term at most. I think most of us would respond like Mesoraco has – asking how can I still help my team? Give the situation a couple days to play out. Back-to-back season-ending injuries sandwiching a long rehab process isn’t easy to process.

Meanwhile, complaints about the Reds medical staff are misplaced. That’s not to say they are beyond criticism. But there is no unifying theme among these injuries. Other teams have them, too. Tommy John injuries are called an “epidemic” for a reason. If you follow other major league teams closely (or even a fantasy team) you know that injuries and rehab set-backs are common with other teams. We just feel them more because of how closely we follow the Reds. Remember 2012, when the Reds used only five starting pitchers for 161 of the 162 of their games? In 2013, three pitchers (Bailey, Latos and Arroyo) threw 200+ innings. If you’re tempted to blame the Reds staff for all the injuries and setbacks, you ought to bring some data with you that shows the local guys have done worse than elsewhere.

Bullpen Chernobyl 

The 2016 Reds bullpen is exactly what one looks like when a team doesn’t care about it for a year. That, plus an organization-wide rash of injuries. It’s not like Walt Jocketty doesn’t know the expensive, multi-year contract-for-relief pitcher move. That’s his move. Think Burke Badenhop, Manny Parra and Logan Ondrusek. Think $21 million for Broxton. If anything, Jocketty is a serial offender at overpaying for past bullpen performance.

But instead, the Reds’ approach to the bullpen this year has been sound. That’s right, sound.

I get the pain. The head says one thing, but the heart still aches. Last night, when J.C. Ramirez gave up two base runners in the seventh, I bolted from GABP. I knew what was coming and didn’t care to see it. The Reds had a three-run lead when I left the park and were behind by two by the time I turned on my car radio.

The rebuild-reboot has created plenty of opportunity for criticism, particularly in the area of position players. But it would have been sheer folly for the Reds to have spent anything on the 2016 bullpen. And they didn’t, despite their well worn trigger finger. In fact, the Reds didn’t sign free agents of any kind this year. Of all the types of players out there, because of how volatile their performances are from year to year, relievers are the last player you would have wanted the Reds to have signed in 2016 to keep around for 2017 and beyond.

If the downpour of pitching injuries ever stops, the bullpen will receive needed arms – ones that will be around for several years. Not every pitcher in the system who is a starter can remain one. A starting rotation of Homer Bailey, Raisel Iglesias, Anthony DeSclafani, Robert Stephenson and Cody Reed – and that’s pretty realistic for August – leaves Michael Lorenzen, Brandon Finnegan, Jon Moscot and John Lamb, among others, for the relief corps. Then think about the next wave currently thriving in Pensacola. That’s a world of home grown difference coming to a pitching mound near you.

Don’t worry, this off-season the Reds will get back to chasing ephemeral bullpen stats in the free agent market. Who-hoo!