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.