The Cincinnati Reds are in first place of the National League Central Division, sitting at 41-37 and holding a half-game lead over the Milwaukee Brewers. The lineup is deep and with the arrivals of Matt McLain and Elly De La Cruz, has transformed into a team with a little bit of power, too. But the rotation has been the exact opposite. Cincinnati has a full rotation’s worth of starting pitchers on the injured list. And over the weekend we found out that the team isn’t expecting Hunter Greene to return until August, as reported by C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic.
With Hunter Greene and Nick Lodolo both out until then, or so it would seem, the rotation would be in enough trouble. But the team also lost Ben Lively over the weekend for at least the next two weeks with a pectoral muscle injury. That leaves a starting rotation of what seems like Andrew Abbott, Graham Ashcraft, Levi Stoudt, Luke Weaver, and Brandon Williamson.
Andrew Abbott has been outstanding in his four big league starts and the Reds are 4-0 in his starts. But beyond Abbott, the rotation as it stands is horrible at best. Graham Ashcraft’s ERA is 7.17 on the season, but in his last eight starts is 12.82. Luke Weaver’s ERA is 6.86 in his 12 starts. Brandon Williamson’s ERA is 5.40 in his seven starts. And Levi Stoudt’s ERA in the big leagues in his 10.0 innings is 9.90, and in Triple-A in 36.0 innings it was 5.00 where he also had as many walks as strikeouts.
That leaves the Reds in a pretty big predicament. The team is in first place but they have got to have, if not the worst, one of the worst starting rotations in baseball. The Reds bullpen has been quite good this season, but it may be starting to show that it’s been worked to the bone thanks to the rotational issues. At some point the team needs to get more innings from the starters, but when four of the five have a combined ERA pushing eleventy (don’t fact check this, we just estimated), the team can’t just have the starters remain out there and also remain in the game.
The minor league depth has already been tested quite a bit. The Reds have had to make multiple signings of veteran pitchers out of independent leagues just to cover innings in the minor leagues from the loss of starters in the big leagues. There rotation in Triple-A is made up of Teddy Stankiewicz, Alec Mills, Michael Mariot, Brett Kennedy, and Zack Brown. That’s two guys who are 28, one guy who is 29, one guy who is 32, and one guy who is 34.
It’s possible that maybe one of those guys can bridge the gap until someone is healthy, but it’s also probably a big ask. Cincinnati isn’t the only team out there with a bunch of injured pitchers, so the trade pool is going to be both shallow in what’s available, but also expensive in acquisition given that everyone is probably looking to add to the rotation.
It’s also possible that the team could attempt to fast track one of their top pitching prospects in Connor Phillips. Barry Larkin reported yesterday that he is going to be promoted to Triple-A Louisville to begin the second half (which begins Wednesday when the Bats return to the field). When it comes to his stuff, he certainly stands out in the minor leagues among the pitchers. He’s got two plus pitches with his breaking ball and his fastball. But he doesn’t show much of a change up and his control has been shaky for much of his career. Until his most recent start, in which he was pulled in the 1st inning as his pitch count continued to climb while walking three batters, he had seemed to take a step forward in his strike throwing ability.
Phillips could be a difference maker. But there’s also a chance he struggles to throw enough strikes often enough in the big leagues out of the gate. Double-A experimented with a pre-tacked baseball in the first half of the season and it led to pitchers having a big advantage with nearly everyone having higher spin rates than they’d ever shown before. Exactly how that all plays out in Triple-A and the big leagues – where both use the MLB baseball – is yet to be seen.
It seems likely that Phillips is going to get starts with Louisville, but if he succeeds early on he could be an option to step in if simply for no other reason than what other choice do they have. It’s probably not a plan they would like to have, potentially rushing a guy up, but as noted – the team is in a bad spot.
The club has a deep farm system. And sometimes you use that depth for trades to acquire players to help the big league club. Maybe this summer, even if it’s not what was expected when the season began, is the time to think about doing that. You don’t pick the year you contend – it picks you. And right now, the baseball Gods have picked the Reds.
Of course maybe you just hope that something turns around with the four pitchers who have had no success to speak of in the rotation for the last two months, or go with guys you signed out of independent league baseball that are now filling up the rotation in Triple-A and wait around and hope you’re still in it if and when Hunter Greene, Nick Lodolo, and Ben Lively return.