We knew that Sonny Gray was coming back this week, but prior to the game on Wednesday manager David Bell announced exactly when that was going to happen. Saturday afternoon against Cleveland will see the return of Gray, who has been rehabbing his way back from back spasms he experience in spring training. He made a start at the Reds alternate site in Louisville on April 4th, and then he threw a simulated game in Arizona at Chase Field while the Reds were in town to play the Diamondbacks.
One thing that was uncertain with the return of Sonny Gray was how things would play out with the rotation, and potentially with the bullpen. Friday night will see Jeff Hoffman start, and Sunday will have lefty Wade Miley on the mound. That means that José De León is out of the rotation. For now, according to Bell, he will pitch out of the bullpen and he could potentially be available today if needed.
“We’re excited to add him to the bullpen,” said Bell. “I just spoke with him – he may even have some availability today. Today was his side day. Like to probably stay away from him, but you never know. I think it could be an exciting opportunity for him. I think he has a real chance to help us out of the bullpen. He could always go right back into the rotation if needed. He’s very built up and that’s not going to go away any time in the next few weeks.”
Cincinnati won’t need to activate Gray until Saturday, so they do not need to make a decision on which reliever will be sent out (either to Louisville to join the alternate site, or designate one of them for assignment). Only Cionel Pérez and José De León have options among the pitchers currently in the bullpen.
So far this season it’s been a mixed bag of results for José De León. On one hand he’s allowed eight earned runs and four home runs in 9.1 innings. There’s nothing at all good in those numbers. He’s also walked five batters, and you most certainly would like to see that number improve moving forward. But the right-hander has also struck out 18 of the 45 hitters he’s faced this season. Small sample size alert here, but that’s a 40% strikeout rate which would put him in the company of the most elite relievers in baseball.
It will be interesting come Saturday to see if the team chooses to ride with José De León in the bullpen with the hopes that in shorter stints that he can perform at a higher level, and choose to send someone else out, or if the team will choose to send him to the alternate site as one of the pitchers who does have options, and see if his development there could be more beneficial down the line.
Shogo Akiyama update
Reds outfielder Shogo Akiyama has been spending his time in Louisville at the alternate site as he rehabs his way back from a hamstring injury that he suffered in spring training. He hasn’t yet played in any games, but that is coming soon as his progression has been going well.
“He’s pretty much doing everything,” said Reds manager David Bell on Wednesday afternoon. “We’re pushing him a little bit harder now. He’s going to start playing in games, I believe, in the next 7-10 days. He’s getting live at-bats. He’s doing everything but getting game action. We’re still on track for the first week of May if everything continues to go well to rejoin us sometime in early May. There’s a really well thought out progression. He’s not running at 100% speed yet, intentionally. But he’s getting there.”
In the absence of Akiyama the Reds outfield has been getting plenty of production from Tyler Naquin. Through his first nine games of the season he’s hit .290/.389/.806 for the Reds and he’s leading the National League in home runs and RBI despite not being an everyday player for Cincinnati.