Last night was supposed to be the return of Tejay Antone. And technically it was. But the Cincinnati Reds reliever only threw a handful of pitches before exiting the game with an elbow injury.
“He definitely felt something in his elbow,” said manager David Bell after the game. “Obviously very concerning. I don’t even know if he’s had a full exam yet. He was just upset. He worked so hard to get back.” Bell would later add, “We’ll know more tomorrow. It was tough to see that”.
It’s highly unlikely that Tejay Antone isn’t heading back to the injured list. Everyone is hoping for the best, but given the time he just missed, the way he reacted – it just seems improbable the he’s going to be able to throw again this week.
That leads to the question of who could the Reds bring in to take his spot on the roster. If we assume that they will replace him with a pitcher that leaves just four players on the 40-man roster: R.J. Alaniz, Ryan Hendrix, Riley O’Brien, and Cionel Pérez. All of those guys are currently in Triple-A.
Riley O’Brien is the only one of that group who hasn’t gotten the opportunity to pitch in the big leagues in the last two years. He’s struggled the last two times out, allowing 11 earned runs in 9.2 innings in two starts. On the season he’s posted a 4.70 ERA over 90.0 innings with Louisville.
But Cincinnati also has two spots on the 40-man roster that are open for the taking, too. And that opens up more possibilities that are potentially better options.
The first name on everyone’s mind is Hunter Greene. He certainly has the stuff to come to the big leagues. His performance has been a bit inconsistent in Triple-A since his arrival. When he’s been on, he’s been real good. But there are some times where he’s run into problems there, too. Nearly everyone is going to have those outings, but it’s even more likely to happen when a guy turned 22-years-old last two weeks ago and is already pitching in Triple-A.
The things that are working in his favor are that, one, he’s got the best stuff of any of the options. Two, he’s rested and ready to go. He is serving a 3-game suspension for throwing behind a batter in his last start that the umpires apparently deemed as intentional. That suspension will be up on Wednesday morning. And while it probably shouldn’t matter, sometimes teams do stupid things and try to play games with service time – Greene has to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason anyways, so calling him up and adding him to the roster doesn’t waste any option years unless they were to then send him back to the minors at some point between now and the end of the season. With expanded rosters, even if it’s just to 28 players in September, that wouldn’t make any sense at all to do.
What’s working against Greene is the fact that he’s never pitched in relief. He’s never been asked to even try it. Pitching every 5th day is what he’s always been asked to do as a professional. It’s a different animal, especially out of nowhere, and in a playoff race.
Another option from Triple-A could be left-handed pitcher Nick Lodolo. Like Greene, he’s certainly got the pure stuff to get the job done. And as a lefty he could potentially fill a role in the bullpen that has a ton of questions around it with Amir Garrett and Justin Wilson being the lefties available and ERA’s over 5.75 this season for the two of them.
What’s working against him is that the team has been very cautious with him since he returned from his blister issues he was dealing with in June. His pitch counts have been low since returning. He also skipped a start last week due to shoulder fatigue, though he did return to pitch an inning on Sunday for Louisville in a bullpen game. Unlike Greene, he would not need to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason to be protected from the Rule 5 draft. Not that it should matter at all.
The other option in Triple-A is Dauri Moreta. Unlike the other two guys, you may not have heard about him much, or even at all. He’s a reliever, so he’s not going to get the same kind of publicity or prospect ranking that a high-profile starter is. But Moreta may also be having the best season of anyone in the organization’s farm system. The righty has split his season in Double-A and Triple-A and has a 0.83 ERA this year in 43.1 innings where he’s given up just 24 hits, walked just 8 batters, and struck out 53. Hitters have a .439 OPS against him this season.
He’s not getting by with smokes and mirrors, either. He sits in the mid-90’s with his fastball and has been up to 97-98 in the second half of the season as his outings have become more 1-inning appearances after having more 2-inning appearances in the first half of the season. He’s also got a good breaking ball and he’ll bring out a change up at times, too. As a reliever for his entire career, he’s used to the routine of pitching multiple times per week, warming up in quick fashion when asked, and has experience in the role. Like Greene, he will need to be added to the 40-man roster this offseason to protect him from the Rule 5 draft.
Another option that the team could look at, though not likely if a move is made to bring an arm in for Wednesday or Thursday, would be Graham Ashcraft. He started on Tuesday night for Double-A Chattanooga and threw 84 pitches, so he would not be able to take the mound again for a few days if the team wanted to explore this option. Ashcraft has been starting since the Reds selected him in the 2019 draft and he’s been one of the big breakouts on the farm this year. He’s a big time ground ball pitcher who also throws 100 MPH, has a devastating breaking ball, and has generally thrown strikes all season.
We’ll know early in the day if the team has plans to call up Hunter Greene. He’s the scheduled starter for Louisville in their game that begins at 1:35pm. Dauri Moreta and Nick Lodolo are both on the Bats roster, too. But with Greene if he’s not in the lineup, you will know something is up. If it’s going to be one of the other two, the lineup won’t give you that clue.
It’s also possible that the Reds could buy themselves a few days to make the decision by calling up a position player and go with an 8-man bullpen since Monday was an off day and everyone should be available to go on Wednesday, and most of the bullpen is likely to also be available on Thursday unless the game today goes bad or into multiple extra-innings and the tam has to eat through everyone in the game.