When the Cincinnati Reds traded Raisel Iglesias over the winter it opened up the closers role on the team. Iglesias had saved 100 games for the Reds over the previous four seasons to go along with a 2.95 ERA and 1.11 WHIP. While there were come hiccups along the way, he was a quality closer.
For a while there was a fun back-and-forth between Lucas Sims and Amir Garrett about who would be the clubs closer. It was all good natured between the two relievers, and objectively both pitchers could make claim that they should be “the closer”. Sims is coming off of a 2020 season where he struck out 34 batters in 25.2 innings while posting a 2.45 ERA. Garrett has posted a 3.03 ERA with 104 strikeouts in 74.1 innings over the last two seasons. Those lines will get the job done.
The Reds weren’t satisfied with the bullpen overall as they were heading into spring training. They went out and signed left-handed reliever Sean Doolittle. He missed most of 2020, but saved 78 games for the Athletics and Nationals between 2017-2019 while posting a 2.94 ERA in that span. His spring hasn’t resulted in good numbers. At all. But spring training isn’t always about trying to put up the best numbers, especially for guys who know they’ve made the team already. Sometimes guys are just out there to work on specific things and that doesn’t always lead to the best spring training results, but gets them prepared for the regular season when the results actually do matter.
Cincinnati is hoping that’s the case for Sean Doolittle, because they’ve spoken of using a situation that’s basically closer by committee. Manager David Bell and pitching coach Derek Johnson have both talked about Doolittle, Garrett, Sims, and Bell even mentioned Tejay Antone as possible guys who could get chances in the 9th inning to pick up a save.
“Obviously we have to be on the same page in terms of the way we talk and the way we think, and David (Bell) shies away from it from a standpoint that he feels like we have 2-3 guys capable at the end of the game to help us win. I think that’s actually a smart way to look at it,” Johnson said. “Historically there’s always been this closer idea, Iggy (Raisel Iglesias) was definitely that guy for us because he was just best in that role. I think Amir Garrett will be considered a closer. I think Lucas Sims will be considered a closer. At the end of the day Sean Doolittle may be considered a closer. ”
Not having a “9th inning only” kind of guy does, at least in theory, provide teams with more optimal usage. But that may only work if everyone involved is ready for the situations that they’ll be called on for. The pitchers need to be ready to enter the game, which means they need to understand when to start their routine just in case. If you’re the “9th inning guy”, you know when that is every day. You don’t need to be ready for the 6th or 7th inning. But if you know that going into a series against a team that has a middle of the order that’s slanted towards righties (or lefties) and that’s the group you’re going to be counted on to get out, you can look at the game situation and know that it’s time to start getting ready to go in case that phone rings.
“Really it’s about getting those last three outs in the 9th inning, and we want to put ourselves in the best spot to do that,” Johnson said. “I think as long as our guys are good with that, in sharing that role, then life is good. I think when you start getting too conventional in thinking that there’s only one guy to do this job, it’s probably where your team falls apart a little bit”
“We have to do a good job of keeping those guys informed, number one, and then number two, helping them understand that it could be Lucas one night, it could be Amir one night, it could be Doolittle one night – it’s just going to depend on a lot of different things. The other factor with that, at least in the beginning, we do have two guys with Lucas and Amir who haven’t been built up properly from spring training because they’ve been injured. So I think if you look at it that way it just makes sense to take care of them on one end, and on the other end of it is put ourselves in the best spot that we can to win the game.”
After the game on Sunday against the Milwaukee Brewers both Amir Garrett and Sean Doolittle addressed the “closer by committee” situation with reporters.
“I’m fine with that,” said Amir Garrett. “Like I’ve said before, I don’t care where I pitch. I want to be the closer, but 7th, 8th, wherever they need me at, it’s no big thing. I kind of put my mind to that, that that is what’s was going to happen regardless of results. It wasn’t ‘be closer by committee’ but, it’s all good. Gotta get to it. Whoever gets the 9th, whatever, they’ve got to lock it down and get three outs. That’s all.”
It was a similar reaction from Doolittle on Sunday afternoon when asked about a “closer by committee” situation.
“I’ve been in that role multiple times where there’s a couple of guys they lean on to get those big outs late in games,” Doolittle said. “One time when I was in Oakland I was sharing the 9th with Ryan Madsen. In 2019 in the second half I was sharing that role with Daniel Hudson. I think it just requires a little bit more communication on the front end of games so that guys know what situations to prepare for. Whether it’s a chunk of the lineup, different match ups they want us to look for to try and get us in the right spots”
“I think Amir’s pitched really, really well in camp. He’s proven he’s ready to pitch in that role. Sims is absolutely nasty and I know he can handle it as well. I think it’s a scenario that could help us manage a workload over the course of a long season. Maybe one guy emerges and kind of takes that role and runs with it and the other guys slide into a set up spot, but I think one of the strengths of this bullpen is that we’re not going to rely on just one guy, on two guys to get big outs for us. I think we have the weapons to be able to match up and get it done as a group.”