Over the weekend Sonny Gray took his final step on his return to the Cincinnati Reds rotation. The right-handed pitcher threw a simulated game at Chase Field in Arizona – he’s on the road trip with the team – and came out the other side feeling fine. Gray last pitched in early March during a game in spring training before he began to experience back spasms. A brief shut down period allowed the team to diagnose what they believed the problem was and address it. Since then Gray’s been rebuilding his innings workload. He even started “opening day” at the Reds alternate site in Louisville last week.
But now he’s ready to go. Manager David Bell noted yesterday that he would return to the rotation when the team returned home from their current road trip. He wasn’t specific with which game that would be, but earlier in the week he noted the plan was that Gray would throw his simulated game and then pitch five days later – which would be that first game back against Cleveland on Friday.
That game on Friday would be Jeff Hoffman’s turn if he remained on a 5-day schedule. But it wouldn’t be much to ask for him to take an extra day and pitch Saturday, either. That spot would be the normal place for José De León. It is probably not a coincidence at all that the two of them are lined up as the #3 and #4 in the rotation. It feels that those two guys were both sort of “spot holders” for when Gray returns, and if one of them pitched significantly better than the other, whoever that was would stick around in the rotation and the other one wouldn’t.
Each pitcher has now made two starts and thrown exactly the same number of innings. Jeff Hoffman has allowed four runs with a WHIP of 1.29 and allowed one home run to go with an ERA of 3.86. José De León has allowed eight runs with a WHIP of 1.71 and given up four home runs to go with an ERA of 7.71. Hoffman has clearly been the better pitcher between the two guys.
It’s been the home run more than anything that’s crushed José De León so far. He’s walked five of the 45 batters that he’s faced, and that’s not great – but it’s also not something that will absolutely crush a pitcher, especially when he’s also struck out 18 of them. But giving up a home run nearly every other inning will crush a pitcher’s stat line and that’s exactly what’s happened.
With Gray returning for Friday or Saturday, we may know the answer as to who is being pushed out of the rotation sooner than that. The team doesn’t need to make a roster move until the day that Gray is returning, and they’d be silly to do it before hand. Whether it’s going to be Hoffman or De León pushed out, that pitcher could be used out of the bullpen at some point in the Giants series on what would normally be their “bullpen day” between starts. That could give us a clue as to who it will be.
If Jeff Hoffman heads out of the rotation then he will wind up in the Reds bullpen. He has no options remaining and can’t be sent out to the alternate site without risking another team picking him up on waivers. But for José De León things could be different. While he could be moved to the bullpen and someone else from the bullpen be sent down or designated for assignment to make room for him there, De León has an option available and could be sent to the alternate site where he could continue starting and be rotation depth if the team wants to go about things in that manner.
If the Reds decide that the strikeout potential of José De León out of the bullpen is too tempting and push him there rather than option him to the minors, that means a bullpen roster move would need to be made. Amir Garrett, Lucas Sims, Tejay Antone, and Sean Doolittle aren’t going anywhere. Sal Romano and Carson Fulmer are out of options, and Cam Bedrosian has too much service time to be optioned without his permission (he could be optioned, but that would leave him with the ability to choose to become a free agent). That leaves only Cionel Pérez in the bullpen with an option among the players who don’t seem to be locks to not be sent down.
If the team were to make a bullpen move it feels like it would come down to Romano, Fulmer, Pérez, and Bedrosian. It’s still pretty early to look at the stats to say that so-and-so should be designated for assignment, or optioned in the case of Pérez because of them, but Cam Bedrosian’s stats stick out like a sore thumb among the group with an ERA of 12.27 and a WHIP of 2.73 so far.
It seems that the likely scenario would just be to option José De León down and see how the bullpen shapes out a little more in the next few weeks and go from there. But you could understand keeping him around in the bullpen and seeing how maybe shorter stints could work for him with all of those strikeouts, too. It could be an interesting weekend for a roster move analysis breakdown depending on exactly which way the Cincinnati Reds go.