Growing up I often heard “don’t count your chickens before they hatch”. Maybe you heard it, too, or something like it. Right now the expectation is that both Luis Castillo and Mike Minor will probably begin the season on the injured list. Neither is expected to miss much time – both are throwing again and it’s still possible that they somehow don’t wind up on the injured list – but for the purposes of expectation here, let’s assume both miss the first two weeks of the season. Where does that leave the Cincinnati Reds rotation and what could it look like?

Tyler Mahle has been named as the opening day starter, so assuming he remains healthy for the next two weeks, he’s in the rotation. Vladimir Gutierrez was a guy mentioned earlier this spring by manager David Bell as in the rotation rather than someone trying to win a job, so he’s in, too. But that’s it for now due to the minor shoulder soreness experienced by both Castillo and Minor that set each back a little bit of time in their preparation and with the short spring training they have time working against them.

Heading into spring training it seemed that the 5th starter spot would be up for grabs. Now it seems that for at least a short period of time there are going to be three spots for the taking. Cincinnati does have some depth at the upper levels of the minors when it comes to starters, so that does play into their favor. Still, only a few guys have big league experience as starters and Tony Santillan, who spent much of 2021 in the bullpen, has the most experience as a starter in the big leagues among the young group vying for a spot with four starts under his belt in the majors. Reiver Sanmartin started two games last year to end the season against the Pirates. Riley O’Brien got one start. Every other pitcher that isn’t Jeff Hoffman that could be up has no big league experience – that group includes Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, Graham Ashcraft, and Brandon Williamson.

While one of these players is likely to win a spot and keep it for the early part of the season, two of these guys are likely to get a start or two before heading to the minors when Luis Castillo and Mike Minor return. Of course things don’t always go as planned. It wasn’t long ago that Michael Lorenzen had a spot in the rotation before an injury late in the spring was only supposed to keep him out for a few weeks and he wound up missing half of the season before returning. But looking back at some sort-of-recent history, the Reds were in a similar situation in 2016 when they brought up Robert Stephenson for his big league debut where he was only expected to make one start before heading back to the minors. That’s what happened, though he was back in the big leagues two weeks later for another spot start.

Later today we’re expected to see Hunter Greene start against San Francisco – his first of the spring after pitching in relief in his first appearance. The Reds top prospect looked good in that outing, working around a pop up lost in the sun by first baseman Colin Moran to record two strikeouts in a scoreless inning. Lefty Nick Lodolo has made two starts now and has allowed just one run in 4.1 innings, walked a batter, and he’s struck out six batters.

Those two may be the favorites to make the rotation, and Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer had them making the rotation in his 28-man roster projection on Friday. But how long they would remain there, and who else could join them to round things out is a big, unanswered question. With limited time in spring training, how they perform in games probably matters a little less than usual, while what is seen by Derek Johnson, David Bell, and Nick Krall being more important than the numbers on the stat sheet.

27 Responses

  1. redsfan4040

    I think some of it may come down to 40 man status. That gives Greene, O’Brien, and Sanmartin the leg up on the others. They’re already at 40 and that’s before Pham is official. Antone can go to the 60 day IL to make room for 1 spot. But adding Lodolo or any other NRI’s will come at the cost of someone on the roster already. If they’re clearly the best choice, then they should do it. But, if it’s just for a start or 2 and Castillo/Minor will replace them regardless when they return, I’d go with a spot start or bullpen day (might be easier with the 28 man roster)

  2. RedBB

    I would go with….


    Reiver could also go as well

    • Grand Salami

      I’d swap Riever for Santillian and sell him on being the late inning guy.

  3. docproc

    Ashcraft (he and Lodolo got an early start on ST)
    PLEASE keep Santillan and Sanmartin in the pen.

    • Tomn

      Ot sure Ashcraft is quite ready yet. Hopefully close though

  4. wkuchad

    If everyone were healthy, would the starters have been:

    Maybe Dunn would have been fighting for the fifth spot.

    To start the season, I’d go:

    When Castillo and Minor return, Santillan to bullpen and Lodolo to AAA. Hoping Greene holds down a starting spot all season.

  5. CFD3000

    My preference:
    Most consistent / mature (Derek Johnson assessment) from the rest including Ashcraft, SanMartin, Greene, Williamson, O’Brien

    In all this the one move that matters most to me is Santillan. Give the most innings to your best pitchers – that means Big Tony to the rotation. Yes, he’d be a good reliever. So would Mahle or Castillo but no one is clamoring for them to close. Santillan came up as a starter, he’s big and sturdy and durable, and he will be wasted in the bullpen. Just my opinion of course.

    Less than two weeks to Opening Day. Can’t wait. Go Reds!

    • 2020ball

      I dont think hes wasted in the pen at all, that looks to be our biggest weakness going into the season

  6. Mark Moore

    Lodolo and/or Ashcroft require a 40-man move unless I’m mistaken. From what limited stuff I’ve seen Lodolo looks ready.

    • JayTheRed

      Ashcraft might need some more seasoning in the minors. Lodolo, He looks ready to go permanently!

  7. LDS

    Amazing the shambles one can make of a rotation when you wave a quality starter then trade for a couple of injured replacements, Dunn & Minor. Management malpractice. And the 40-man roster is loaded with possibilities but not necessarily for this year.

  8. Harold

    We have done very little to improve the bullpen but that won’t matter because we will have very few games with an opportunity to save. We will lose the series to the Braves and the season will be no better. It’s one thing to bring in young players and we have lot of young talent, but they will not be ready for what they have to face. We might beat the out the Pirates for to stay out of last place, but I doubt it. It will be a long season. SELL THE TEAM BOB

    • Bdh

      Bullpen this year compared to the one that started last year is night and day

      Not sure how many they’ll go with during the expanded April roster but the 8 I’d pick otherwise would be

      Cessa – 2.51 ERA in 53 appearances last year. 2.05 with the reds

      Strickland – 2.67 ERA in 57 appearances last year

      Santillan – 2.36 ERA in 22 games after moving to the pen

      Warren – 1.26 ERA in 26 appearances

      Wilson – 2.81 ERA in 21 appearances with Reds

      Hoffman – 3.54 ERA in 20 games after he moved to the pen

      Sims – 4.40 ERA in 47 appearances for reds

      With a healthy starting rotation I think Sanmartin is the final piece in the bullpen but since he’ll be in the rotation I’ll go with either

      Moreta – 2.45 ERA in 4 appearances
      Zimmer – 4.83 ERA in 52 appearances

      That group doesn’t have a Fulmer, Perez, Romano, or Bedrosian in the bunch. Doesn’t have the bad signing like Doolittle either.

      • JayTheRed

        Yes I too feel the bullpen is in much better shape than last season’s start.

  9. MK

    Santillan in the bullpen, then the pen is weak. There he can play a role in tow to three games a week. As a starter one. Leave him in the pen where, in addition he seems more comfortable. Sanmartin looked good three levels last year so he earned his shot to be a starter and doesn’t require a 40-man spot. Greene would be the other spot for two reasons. He is good and looks ready and probably ensures at least one sellout for a team needing something to boost attendance.

  10. Jim Walker

    The chances the Reds are going to let Greene or Lodolo, Williamson or Graham Ashcraft pitch enough innings in 2022 for any of them to fill out a rotation spot on his own are very slim and less than none.

    Start from that situation and work back.

    If the team really believes Castillo and Minor are short timers on the IL just patch Santillan, Hoffman and SanMartin in, using other arms to fill out the pen.

    • MBS

      Didn’t see your post before i posted mine. Similar strategy, but I like Ashcraft as a future bullpen piece. So if he starts the year in the rotation, the Reds can throttle him back when they put him in the pen. I think Hoffman proved he’s more valuable out of the pen. Either way mine or your’s and I’d be happy.

      Mahle / Gutierrez / Sanmartin / Ashcraft / Santillan

    • Daytonnati

      I assume both Lodolo and Greene are on an innings-limit ?

      • Jim Walker

        Probably all 4 of them. And a pitch count per appearance. They’d make a couple of nice pairs to work together alternating between starting and being second man in on a prearranged plan. That would work better at AAA but wouldn’t be out of the question at MLB.

      • 2020ball

        Its risky to piggyback them beacause other days you lose that spot in the pen and youd need another starter. It can work, but they need to build innings as well so AAA is probably the better spot for that. I like a little outside the box tho, that kinda thing always carries some risk but big reward if it works

  11. MuddyCleats

    Since few if any will be fully stretched out, I don’t think it matters that much? I would think Most early games are going to see multiple pitchers piggybacking on starts similar to a Spring Training game? Hopefully, Mikey and Castillo become available w/out too much delay. Having said that, Bell has said he thinks Hunter is ready, so I would NOT b surprised to see him win one of the SP spots.

  12. MBS

    The addition of Strickland makes me more comfortable with Santillan in the rotation. Ashcraft, and Santillan can slot into the pen when Castillo and Minor come back.

    Mahle / Gutierrez / Sanmartin / Ashcraft / Santillan

    Let Greene, Lodolo, and Williamson push their way onto the roster during the season. All 3 are too valuable to rush.

  13. Old-school

    With a compressed schedule and double headers scattered during the season- spot starts are the rule rather than the reception and the Reds will need 2 spot starters on call at all times.

    1.) Mahle
    3.) San Martin- always need a change of pace lefty
    4.)Lodolo- he’s built his arm up starting ST in February and apparently had issues with the minor league baseball
    leading to blisters. Give him 5 starts with the Mlb ball
    5.) Santillan- i could go either way. If DJ thinks long term he is a starter then hes in the rotation. That said, he was lights out in the bullpen and with starters only going 5 innings- he could be a multi inning high leverage guy that helps win games in the 7th/8 th inning. Look at bullpen last year

    In DJ I trust

    6.) Greene- franchise starter . Dont put him on the Cionel Perez louisville up and down bus. Build him up slow- get him 7-8 starts in AAA and if hes firing on all cylinders- bring him up to stay in late May

    Id buy a ticket to see that debut.

    7.) Ashcraft- his arm is built up. Give him a cup of coffee with Hoffman as long relievers first few weeks. Theyll need innings

    • 2020ball

      If they need innings, Ashcraft should be in AAA

  14. 2020ball

    Greene, Santillan, and Sanmartin simply because the other guys arent on the roster. I am hoping Lodolo replaces Santillan on that list, but he’ll have to pitch well for it to happen. I can see the hapless Reds FO actually giving him an opportunity.

    Personally still wondering why Minor is even on the team if we are having these sorts of conversations.