The 2021 Cincinnati Reds bullpen, for the first three months of the season, was bad.

Not just bad, but historically bad. The two best relief pitchers were Lucas Sims and Tejay Antone without a doubt.

But the Reds just came off a three-game sweep over this last weekend and all were one-run wins and they moved into second place thanks to relievers Brad Brach, Art Warren and Heath Hembree.

Those three did their best imitation of The Nasty Boys, who need no introduction to Reds fans.  That’s one point of view. The other is that they were facing the Cubs, an underachieving team on a 7-game losing streak waiting to be blown up at the trade deadline.

So— to steal a famous line from the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid-– who are those guys?

Brach, Warren and Hembree— heck, throw in Jose Osich too— are all relatively new to the Reds organization. And with Sims, Antone and Mike Lorenzen all injured, those three guys were a big part in surging Cincinnati into second place over the weekend.

I know a little about who these guys are but not that much.

Brach is a 6’ 6”, 35-year-old reliever who has been in the majors since 2011 and was an All-Star in 2016 for Baltimore. I know Hembree is 32 and had his best season for the Red Sox in 2016. And I know Warren was drafted in the 23rd round by Seattle, is from Defiance, Ohio and has been up and down with the Reds and the Louisville Bats most of the season.

I omit Amir Garrett because he has plummeted from the projected closer in three months. I like Amir. I had hoped he would be a shutdown reliever.  He’s lefthanded, has the size and a live arm. He’s a fighter. Sure, he induced a game ending double play on Sunday but man– he was wild and your pulse was racing if you were watching the game when Garrett pitched.

But, back to history: when the Reds failed to win the NL West in 1969, it led to the firing of Dave Bristol, who now is justifiably in the Reds Hall of Fame. Cincinnati finished just 4 games behind Atlanta that season with an 89-73 record and the lack of pitching led to that finish.

Jim Merritt and Jim Maloney were reliable starters but Gary Nolan was injured, Tony Cloninger lost 17 games and fifth starter Gerry Arrigo was 4-7. It was also Maloney’s last full season with the Reds and he wasn’t the Jim Maloney of 1965. The bullpen had two reliable hurlers in Wayne Granger (90 games, 9-6, 27 saves, 2.80 ERA) and Clay Carroll (12-6, 3.52 ERA and 7 saves).

But their 10-man pitching staff (that’s what they used back then, not 12 or 13 pitchers) couldn’t give Bristol enough quality innings.

Sparky Anderson got a taste of that in the 1970 World Series. Merritt had a bad elbow after winning 20 games, Wayne Simpson’s shoulder blew up after a 14-1 start and Jim McGlothlin fought injuries after June. Sparky’s best pitchers in that Series were a 19-year-old reliever (Don Gullett) and Milt Wilcox against the powerful Baltimore Orioles.

And the Reds front office of 2021 has been incredibly dormant in seeking relief help. They have littered the landscape with multiple, low-risk signings but that’s it.

If Warren, Brach and Hembree can keep this up (even on a semi-regular basis) the Reds can cause some problems for other teams down the stretch, especially with Antone and Sims coming back. Lorenzen? I’m not counting on him at all. If the Reds get anything from him, it’s a plus.

Historically, the Reds have had solid bullpens in the last 50 years. You can rattle off the names— Franco, Brantley, The Hawk, Eastwick, The Nasties, The Lone Granger, Gravy, Hume, Borbon and Cordero.

I don’t expect Brach, Hembree and Warren to turn into any of those guys. But if they can hold their own and get back Sims and Antone, the Reds could be back in business, stay over the .500 mark and create some havoc in the National League.

37 Responses

  1. RojoB

    Some good memories in there, Mr. Ring—I’ll also add Arthur Rhodes in 2010 as a guy that locked down almost every 8th inning.

    I agree with you, that if they get anything from Lorenzen this season it will be a bonus. But past experiences with these owners make me fear that they are using his return as an excuse to not add anyone quality to the pitching staff.

    I call it “Ryan Ludwick Syndrome” : see 2013 season

    Hope i’m wrong

    • Reds fan

      You have to mention Ted Abernathy…….awesome submarine closer!

  2. CFD3000

    The bullpen has been a mess small and large most of the season except for this recent stretch since the Reds left San Diego. And even then there have been some melt downs, most notably the 6 late runs Tuesday gifted to KC. It’s been clear from Opening Day that the team needs bullpen help, and maybe more clear that the worst 2 or 3 relievers were, to be kind, in over their heads. And yet with the exception of some shuffling at the bottom, not a lot has changed. That’s the bad news.

    But I’m going to share my own recent change of heart on the good news side. I think the bullpen is going to be a strength in the second half of 2021. Already Brach, Warren, Osich and Hembree have delivered improved results. And although it’s not by trade or the waiver wire, there are at least four good to excellent relievers set to join the team in July – Lorenzen, Hoffman, Sims and then Antone, and toward the end of the year if needed, you might see Santillan, Lodolo or Greene. If I told you that none of those guys would be back this year but the FO had signed 4 (or 7) relievers with similar capabilities you’d likely be thrilled. Well, the return to health of those pitchers is exactly equivalent to signing a strong relief squad. I know it’s not a proactive change, but it’s still a very positive upgrade. I’ll take a bullpen chosen from Antone, Sims, Lorenzen, Hoffman (or Gutierrez), Brach, Warren, Osich, Hembree and Garrett, and maybe Lodolo and Greene, all the way to October. So I’m optimistic about the Reds bullpen. Go Reds!

    • Tomn

      I agree. I’m worried though about Antone. They brought him back too early and seem to now be pushing back his return. He was tremendous early this year. I’m not counting on Green and Lodolo this year. I don’t think they are ready to take the step up to MLB but they are closing in. Next year is much more likely and that is exciting. If the FO would go out and find a stud reliever, that would be great. But at what cost? That’s always the question.

      • JayTheRed

        Honestly I would be good with a good reliever or two. They don’t need to trade off top quality talent to get a stud reliever. They need one or two guys who can pitch around 3.50 to 4.50 ERA’s Well unless we can get a steal from someone. High unlikely though.

      • Rut

        Two fold concerns for Antone — health and spin rate issues.

        The health issue is clear. The spin rate issue is of great concern to me since Antone pretty much appeared out of nowhere (was never a ranked prospect) and his success appeared to be largely due to a newly found high spin rate.

        Now, no idea if it was 100% natural or helped by sticky stuff. Given all the current issues of pitchers held in higher regard than Antone (Gerrit Cole, etc), I have a feeling that Antone’s performance might not ever get back to the level of his brief dominant window.

    • Christopher Hoeb

      Should we rewind back to when the Reds were letting guys like Iglesias and Bradley go with nothing in return. The Reds front office is to blame here and now it is time to get Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo rea?y.

  3. DefianceRedsFan

    I’m from Defiance so it’s cool to see Art Warren doing well! For a smaller town/city we’ve actually had a few recent big leaguers. Chad Billingsley, Jon Niese, and near by Bryan, Ohio has a familiar name, Matt Wisler. pretty neat!

  4. Jim Walker

    For whatever reason, Heath Hembree recalls David (Stormy) Weathers in my memory.

    Like Stormy, Hembree appears to be a guy who understands what he is about with few illusions of self grandeur. He takes the ball when asked and comes in to give the best he has that day. He realizes given his stuff, his margin of error is minuscule; and, on some days even without a mistake, his best stuff won’t be good enough. And after his best gets beat, he still answers the next call with the same approach and attitude.

    I took a peek at David Weathers Baseball Reference page to refresh my memories.

    In 2007 for a Reds team which had a 72-90 record, Stormy made 70 appearances finishing an incredible 60 games to earn 33 saves (6 blown saves; 0 holds; ERA/FIP 3.59/3.91) in 77.2 innings.

    I was curious what was going on in the ~31 games Weathers finished but was not awarded a save or charged with a blown save. He was charged with 6 losses over the season; but, I couldn’t find a direct way of figuring out how many, if any, of them were the blown saves. My guess is he pitched a lot of bottom of 8th innings (on the road) and top of 9th innings (at home) with the Reds already trailing he entered in games the Reds were unable to pull even or win on their final at bat.

    • Jim Walker

      Because I got obsessed with David Weathers 2007 season, I fired up my spreadsheet program and went to work.

      In addition to the 33 saves Weathers earned, he appeared in 37 additional games. The Reds won 20 of these 37. 16 of the 20 wins were finished by Weathers in situations that did NOT earn him a save.

      So he finished 49 of the team’s 72 victories and pitched in a total of the 53 games won by the Reds. Unless I’ve crossed up my logic or math somewhere this means the team was 53-17 in games in which Weathers appeared and just 19-73 in games he did not appear in,

      Pretty amazing for a 37 year old reliever pitching in the 19th season of what would be a 21 year MLB career.

  5. Brian Rutherford

    Excellent article. I feel like these stories are what make baseball so relatable. Before this season I had never even heard of Art Warren. This also is what makes you want to root for them so hard. Great guys who are doing their best to represent the fans. It’s one of the reasons I find it hard to be negative about the decisions that are being made. I feel like the guys on this team really get it and with vets like Joey and Tucker you really want them to get success they deserve

  6. Gonzo Reds

    With the returnees plus the newbies that have proved themselves we’re close to having an effective bullpen. Add Graveman from the Mariners and we’d be above average.

    Buster said we’ve got a 19% chance of making the playoffs.

  7. JA

    One factor that maybe has helped to improve the BP is the SP improvement.
    SPs have been able to reach 6+ innings keeping close the games even when letting it lost at the time of RP. Quite different for the BP the scenario when the RPs start at 2nd or 3rd inning. Worse if that occur in consecutive games,which in such a case the BP is just dismantled litle by little.

    • JayTheRed

      I have to agree Starting pitchers going later into games is probably helping cause we don’t necessarily need to use 5 guys every night to cover the later innings. That helps a lot.

    • Chris

      That is a true statement indeed. I will say though, this has MUCH to do with Bell hopefully realizing that you have to let your starters work through some challenges in those middle innings, so as to help the bullpen over the course of the season. My biggest problem with Bell has been how he manages his pitchers, both starters and relievers. He seems to have improved with this starters, and the 3 batter rule has helped him improve in the reliever department. Thus, this team is now much improved.

      • Maloney63

        I do like that 3 batter minimum. It helps stop LOTS of managers from over-managing, including Bell!

  8. doofus

    Where is the Cavalry? Where is the front office and ownership? Why are they not doing something to help this team? These guys are battling but need some help.

    Is this going to be another 2010, ’12 or ’13 when Jocketty and Castellini did nothing to fortify the roster for the stretch run when they won 91, 97 and 90 games, respectively.

  9. Roger Garrett

    All teams pretty much have the same formula to winning.Get ahead early,extend the starter and reduce the work of the pen.Outside of the elite closers and a few set up guys all have there good days and bad days.Cubs pen of no name guys outside of Kimbrell went over 30+ scoreless inning a few weeks ago but once the starters started to get kicked around and they had to cover more innings well they got exposed.Short of it is the less the pen pitches the better it will be.Guys coming back soon will make us much much better.I am not so much of a fan of using 4 or 5 pen guys to get through 2 innings.I realize Bell does go match up silly sometimes and that can wear out a pen but thats his call.

  10. JB

    Just putting Cordero in with those other relievers makes me cringe.

  11. John C.

    Over the next 3 weeks, we could be seeing a very different pitching staff even without a trade. With the return of Hoffman, Lorenzen, Antone and Sims (realizing that the latter two might be a little farther out) there are going to have to be some interesting decision made as to who will either be returned to the minors or DFA’d.

    Perez would be the first on the chopping block followed by Hendrix but after that, who goes? Doolittle would be considered but unlikely. Gutierrez stays if they keep Hoffman in the bullpen. After that you will have to choose from someone that has been effective as of late.

    • Scott C

      Doolittle is not going anywhere and as of his last few appearances has pitched pretty well. They are saying he has found a breaking pitch which has helped him. I don’t feel near as bad about the bullpen now as I did a month ago. I think a lot of the credit has to go to DJ, he has taken a bunch of castoffs and woven a workable bullpen. It is not a great bullpen, and I know they blew a big lead the other night but every bullpen does that on occasion. With the near return of Lorenzen, Hoffman , Antone and Sims and the bullpen is not looking to bad, now if only we had a SS, maybe next year.

  12. Pete N Hall

    No mention of Aroldis Chapman when listing the top bullpen guys for the Reds over the past 50 years?

  13. Redgoggles

    I’m hoping the David Bell smoke/mirror magic show continues to work over the next 7 games! Otherwise, it’s on the front office IMO/owner. Glaring – and likely fatal – hole in an otherwise solid-ish team that has been known even going into the season. I’d feel much better about our chances if we still had a couple expensive bullpen pieces they jettisoned over the winter at the price of cash – not prospect – capital. I’m against moving any quality prospects for rental bullpen help now. At this point, I think hoping on health is our only strategy. We is what we is.

    • Roger Garrett

      100% correct.The magic show continues.Just imagine if the Reds had an owner that could see the potential for his team had he not fell asleep at the wheel.Blame it on COVID but he is the one that loaded up his payroll by signing the guys he signed.

      • Redgoggles

        I do give him somewhat of a pass, considering most of the big contracts (Shogo/Moose/Casty/Miley) were given out pre-covid. (Which, at the time kind of kicked the legs out from under the argument that he was too cheap to spend money.)

        And in general I don’t fault business owners for running their business by P&L’s and cash flows, regardless of overall increase in FMV value (that only converts to cash flow if sold as some on this site is fond of drum beating.) Especially during an offseason when ticket revenue was extremely unknown. So, not sure it’s entirely fair to blame the owner this year……but I do believe it’s even less fair to blame the manager.

        Bell has impressed me this year, and I think this team is doing well because of him, not in spite of him. (And I was not a fan of his last year.)

  14. SteveO

    Wow Gray to the 10 day IL and Santillan called up. Will Gray’s turn in the rotation be treated as a bullpen day? Hoffman is stretching out as a starter and seemed like the more likely choice.

    • SteveO

      I guess the Reds won’t really need a starter because of the All-Star break and Gray can be activated in the Brewer series if needed. Next move will be Lorenzen up and Perez down.

      • Redsvol

        going to hurt losing Sonny. I can’t imagine a rib strain for a pitcher is as simple as 10 days off.

    • SoCalRedsFan

      It’s roster manipulation at it’s finest. Sonny won’t miss a start with the break coming up. Wasn’t scheduled to pitch this weekend anyway and we now have an extra bullpen arm for this series.

      • Jim Walker

        I agree. What’s the inside joke? Something about there is not a professional athlete in the world who is ever 100% healthy between his first and last appearance of a given season. Normal morning after soreness was probably diagnosed as a minor rib cage strain and would have been well enough for Sonny to go in 5 days except they don’t need him again for 10+ days.

  15. RojoB

    Sonny back to 10 day IL with rib cage strain

    Hope it’s just a precaution to get Santillan back for the Brewers series

    • Bet on Red

      agreed with the allstar break around the corner, this very well could add depth and Sonny might not miss a start at all

    • greenmtred

      Didn’t sound like that: he said he woke up feeling sick. It’s bad news even if it really is fixed after ten days, but this team is, against all odds, resilient, and the All-Str break approacheth.

    • Redgoggles

      I had the same thought, mildly surprised it’s Santillian and not Hoffman though. That concerns me a bit as it seems like that would indicate they might continue to build Hoffman up for a starters role, potentially for Sonny. Big step back for both rotation and bullpen depth/quality, if true.

  16. JA

    Line up for tonight’s game (


    Competitive, at least

  17. Chris Holbert

    I guess Lopez knows where he fits..

  18. Maloney63

    Actually it was Clay Carroll who was the Reds dominant pitcher of the ’70 World Series. Remember it so well. 9 shutout innings with 11 Ks. Gullett pitched well but Granger and everyone else was pounded. Wilcox only pitched 2 innings allowing 2 runs.