In the days leading up to Opening Day, we’ll be previewing The State Of The Reds at every single position on the field. Check out the previous installments of our Redleg Nation 2018 Season Preview series:

First Base
Second Base
Third Base
Center Field
Right Field

Starting pitching is a key pillar of all successful major league teams. If the starting pitching does not consistently maintain control of games, no amount of offense, defense, and bullpen work can salvage a respectable season for a team. In 2018, at least the third full year of the current rebuilding cycle, what is the outlook for the Reds starting pitching?  Let’s start by looking at the recent past.

2017- Foundation or Ruins?

At times, the situation in 2017 seemed like total chaos as the 16 players were used as starting pitchers.  After having two 30-game starters in 2016 — after having one in 2015 — the Reds had no pitcher make more than 21 starts in 2017, and just two pitchers make as many as 20 starts. Neither of these men return in 2018. In fact, half the pitchers who made starts for the Reds last year, representing about 44% of the total starts, are no longer with the organization. With no starting pitching having been brought into the organization over the off season and no starting candidates who were not on the MLB roster or DL at the end of 2017, the road to consistency and reliability seems very steep in 2018.

The Plan for 2018

During the off season, Reds manager Bryan Price indicated four men had an inside track to being in the 2018 rotation. Rotation holdovers Luis Castillo (15 Games Started/ 3.74 FIP in 2017) and Homer Bailey (18 GS/4.90 FIP in 2017) topped Price’s list, followed by two pitchers projected to be healthy after having their 2017 seasons ended by injuries very early on: Anthony DeSclafani (20 GS/3.96 FIP in 2016) and Brandon Finnegan (31 GS/ 5.19 FIP in 2016).

Price foresaw the battle for the final rotation spot being among Sal Romano (16 GS/4.24 FIP in 2017), Robert Stephenson (11 GS/ 4.92 FIP in 2017), Tyler Mahle (4 GS/ 4.01 FIP in 2017), Michael Lorenzen — a reliever since an inconclusive 21 game starting stint in 2015 — and “others”. Notably not called out by name as rotation contenders were lefties Amir Garrett and Cody Reed. Follow-up comments by Price inferred that one or both of these pitchers were now being looked at as relievers since the Reds are markedly short handed from the left-hand side in the bullpen.

What’s Happened In Spring Camp

Castillo and Bailey have gotten their work done in preparation for the regular season. Write these two names into the rotation with ink. Yes, Bailey has been less than impressive this spring, but he says he is healthy and he looks healthy. Thus, as long as he takes the ball every 5 days and avoids multiple total meltdowns he will be in the rotation.

DeSclafani is out of the rotation mix for now because he has been struck (again) by the injury bug. As you probably know, Disco’s injury is a strained left oblique, the same general injury which cost him nearly half of  his 2016 season. Given his past history with the similar injury, scratch him from the rotation for the foreseeable future.

Finnegan was also injured again. Finnegan’s injury was described as a triceps strain. The team and the player are optimistic it will be very short-term. In fact, he is continuing to do baseball work and pitched 2 innings in a minor league game on March 20. Bryan Price has held out hope that Finnegan may be ready to slot into the 5th spot of the rotation by the second week of April, which would the first time a fifth starter is definitely “needed”.

And so, it turns out there is a competition for at least 2 and perhaps 3 rotation slots, with three players seeming to have separated themselves from the pack. Sal Romano has had a good spring and appears to have nailed down a spot. Amir Garret, just as he did last season, has posted a monster spring to project himself into forefront of rotation consideration. Tyler Mahle has been arguably as good as Garrett; but the pesky issue of service time and years of player control could temporarily deny him the prize of a spot in the rotation.

As for the rest of the field? Robert Stephenson has had a typically unimpressive Robert Stephenson spring . Nonetheless, bear in mind when he was put into the rotation last season because there was no one else, he did a credible job over the final 2 months. Cody Reed had a rough early go this spring but has looked better of late. However, with Amir Garrett most likely destined to make the rotation, chances are even greater than previously that Reed becomes a lefty out of the bullpen.

Michael Lorenzen has joined the ranks of the injured. The team reports he has a Grade 1 strain of his teres major in his throwing shoulder and has been shut down from pitching activities. While the team is downplaying the seriousness of the injury, it would seem to end Lorenzen’s chances to become a starting pitcher in 2018.

And In The End

The most likely scenario is that Sal Romano and Amir Garrett take the third and fourth spots in the rotation behind Homer Bailey and Luis Castillo. Intrigue then ensues over who gets the fifth spot. The Reds seem to be pushing to give Brandon Finnegan every opportunity to take it. The suspicion here is that since the Reds have done little or nothing to indicate they are seriously interested in competing for a playoff spot in 2018, they would prefer to maintain the “extra” year of control which could be gained over Tyler Mahle by leaving him in the minors long enough to keep him at less than a full year of service time at season’s end. Given the service time Mahle accrued in September of 2017, that works out to sometime in May for his MLB arrival. If Finnegan is not ready when needed or anyone else comes up lame before then, there is always Robert Stephenson (again). But need I say that already the depth looks just sidewalk mud puddle deep, and that does not portend good things with 162 games ahead.

Late Breaking News

Based on roster moves made by the Reds late Thursday which included Robert Stephenson being optioned to AAA, it appears that Tyler Mahle will in fact make the Reds rotation out of camp. While nothing has been officially announced as of yet, apparently Amir Garrett will be the odd man out if Brandon Finnegan is ready to make the start on the first occasion a 5th starter is required early in the second week of April.


20 Responses

  1. citizen54

    I’m glad they have Stephenson going to AAA rather than having him pitch out of the bullpen. I would also like to see Reed to get a shot at starting in AAA as well. I am somewhat disappointed the Reds are again making SP decisions based upon of couple of weeks of spring training instead of sticking with a development plan. Romano looks like a keeper so I’m fine with him in the rotation. I think the Reds need to see what they have in Stephenson and Reed who have shown flashes in the past before moving on to Garrett. Mahle also looks like a future fixture in the rotation but the Reds have plenty of time to make a decision on him and keeping him in AAA for a couple of months would give them an extra year of control.

    • Ken

      iirc Reed started last season at AAA and was beat around badly. He was supposedly ‘tipping his pitches’. Not sure I still buy that after his performance this spring.

      • citizen54

        Not sure where this Reed was hammered in AAA last year meme comes from. Ya he had a couple of bad starts but overall he was 3.55 ERA 4.28 FIP 4.31 xFIP. It’s not great, but hardly “beat around badly.”

  2. Sliotar

    Always good to see Jim Walker’s thoughts. Haven’t seen him post much this off-season.

    Regarding Mahle, if he pitches lights out, or better than expected, he likely sticks in Cincinnati. If not, he can always be sent down quietly in the middle of the season, to “work on something”, long enough to ensure the extra season of control.

    The update on all the SP youngsters reminds me of the old Braves GM John Schuerholz, who said once that you need 10 good pitching prospects to end up with 2 quality MLB starters. Lots of grafting and developing still ahead for almost all in/near the rotation.

    Reading this also reminds me of why Peraza will likely get an extended look throughout 2018. The Reds may end up needing a SP acquisition or two for the next playoff window,. Better to play Peraza in his age 24 season and be sure about him, rather than create another hole prematurely.

    • Jim Walker

      I was off the grid on vacation the first 2+ weeks of the offseason; and, with the Reds doing nothing to generate interest, I caught a stronger than normal case of the CBJ hockey bug when I returned. But now we are getting down to the real stuff; so, I’ll be back here more,

  3. Redgoggles

    Much has been (rightly) said/written about preserving Mahle’s service time, but does the same argument apply to the other young pitchers? (Stephenson, Garrett, Reed, etc.) I’m not very familiar with how it all works, but if starting Mahle’s preserves the others that get sent down, it would minimize the importance of preserving a specific pitcher’s service time……of course, this assumes they all will be studs in the next 3-5 years!

  4. scottya

    1. Can Castillo be a 3-4 war starter? IMO yes, would’ve been 4.5 war in a full 17′ season
    2. Can Mahle be a 3-4 war starter? IMO yes
    3. Can Romano be a 2-3 war starter? IMO yes, 1.3 fwar in 17′, would have been 2 war.
    4. Can Garrett be a 2-3 war starter? I’m not sure, but if he does look out for our redlegs!
    5. Will Bailey be able to be a reliable starter? I’m not sure, but I doubt it.

    The starting rotation to me appears to be looking brighter and brighter. I’m excited and hopeful to see how it all plays out.

    I do wish that the Reds could delay Mahle’s service clock to give us one more year.

    • scottya

      I tend to agree that placing Brandon Finnegan in the bullpen is best for the Reds and I’ve come to the opinion that Cody Reed pitching out of the bullpen may be his only chance to be a mlb pitcher.

      • james garrett

        As I said last year and will continue just let the young guys pitch and let the young position guys play as well.Good grief we should already know about most of these guys.Lets not waste another year please.I know nothing about service time and don’t care much about 5 years from now on who should have been held back etc etc.

  5. wkuchad

    “Based on roster moves made by the Reds late Thursday which included Robert Stephenson being optioned to AAA, it appears that Tyler Mahle will in fact make the Reds rotation out of camp. While nothing has been officially announced as of yet, apparently Amir Garrett will be the odd man out…”

    I’ve read this (or something similar) a few times now. I don’t understand why these roster moves push Mahle into the fourth starter position (versus Garrett).

    An extra year of eligibility for Mahle is a big deal, and I really hope the Reds don’t screw this up.

    • Jim Walker

      I tend to agree with you that it isn’t clear that Mahle is in and Garrett is the man on the bubble pending Finnegan’s availability. However all the media covering the team in Arizona seem convinced that is the situation. I’m guessing they know something from off the record sources and are saying what they can now. Maybe what they know is that Finnegan is not going to be ready to slot as the 5th starter’ and the rest falls in once Stephenson was optioned.

  6. Scott Carter

    I don’t know why, there is no discussion about this, and perhaps there has been by the Reds brass, but is there a possibility that because of his delivery and “movement” of his fastball that Stephenson is just a slow starter. Last year he came into the start of the season looking decent, though not great and then was relegated to the bullpen where he rusted away. That said I think it is good that he starts in AAA, to work out those kinks, but I definitely would not count him out.

    • Streamer88

      This is where the Reds and I part ways. They are enamored with Finnegan as a starter and I am not. Instead of wasting time on his potential starting, I’d give Bob Steve 30 starts in the MLB this year. Isn’t that what non competing years are for?

      Maybe he heats up, settles down, and becomes a lesser version of the big unit: lots of Ks, lots of walks, and trending to ace.

  7. Jim Walker

    I finished the original version of this post, sans the “Breaking News” paragraph late Wednesday because I had other engagements come up for yesterday. I left for a social function yesterday about an hour before the news broke about Stephenson being optioned and did not learn of it until around 10PM last night. When I was the social function, I was asked about the Reds pitching and replied along the same lines as your comment, ending up saying “don’t be surprised if RS ends up as one of the top three Reds starters this year”. Oh, well….

    • Dewey Roberts

      I hope RS gets it together. But Mahle was head and shoulders above him in the starts I saw of both at Pensacola. Concerning Bailey, I am not sure if he will ever return to anything like his former self. He may be healthy but his arm appears to be washed up. He continues to be hit around like a batting practice pitcher.

  8. Mike Kelsch

    Wow! this is slick! I love the new appearance. this can only commence an endless Reds dominance over their ill prepared Central foes. Should have joined the Astros in the AL when you could have.

  9. wkuchad

    I just don’t understand the upside of not waiting on Mahle.

    • The Duke

      Mahle had 36 days of service time last year, so you are looking at 49 days to get that extra year (mid to late May). And if you want to avoid super 2 (him getting 4 arbitration years) then you are talking about waiting until July. I get the reasoning behind just playing him. If Mahle ends up a solid middle rotation pitcher and is healthy through the next 3 years, then odds are they try to get him on a similar contract as Suarez (albeit maybe not as long, because pitchers get hurt more often).

      • Jim Walker

        I think they are also taking a bit of a calculated risk that very few pitchers who have made 30 starts a year at MLB have enough left in the tank to be nearly invaluable and that difficult to replace beyond team control.

      • Jim Walker

        As I said in a comment on the 2018 prediction thread what I really find interesting is that they chose to burn Mahle’s service time versus giving Stephenson the ball every 5 days in MLB to start the year just to see if RS could continue to progress as he seemed to in the 11 starts he got from late July thru September last year,
        If they had any real continuing interest in RS as an MLB starter, they could have found this out while saving Mahle’s service time.