Weeks before the first Opening Day float began rolling its way toward Fountain Square, all the talk was injuries. Injuries to TJ Friedl and Matt McLain. Add in the self-inflicted wound Noelvi Marte imposed upon the roster and suddenly, all that vaunted depth flew south, migrating under the knife and eventually, rehab.

Social media warriors shifted into high gear. The boys in the offices have failed again. Hunter Greene should have been the Opening Day starter. Hunter Greene is a bust. Elly De La Cruz needs to head back down I-71 to learn the strike zone. Villainous Stuart Fairchild is a minor league hitter, nothing more. David Bell’s incompetent lineups are to blame for base runners lost.

Drawing sweeping conclusions from a small sample size April is a yearly folly played out over and over again, ad nauseam, in part because the Friedl, McLain and Marte realities are now baked into the season and while lamentable, not worth obsessing over when roster decisions and bullpen moves are fresh meat to furnish the clubhouse table. And anyway, to paraphrase Obi-Wan, “these are not the injuries we should be looking for.”

I prefer to discuss INJURIES and the TIME required to repair and excel. As Iago said to Roderigo, “How poor are they that have not patience! What wound did ever heal but by degrees?”

A swimming pool accident that necessitated surgery to repair torn cartilage in his right shoulder followed by a shortened COVID season in 2020 saw Eugenio Suárez suffer his worst season with the Reds. The beloved third baseman, who was good for 4 Wins Above Replacement each of the previous 3 seasons, saw his production crater as he navigated his way back to the mechanics that made him a successful major leaguer. But, it would take a full season of competing and relearning at the highest level; to trust his repaired shoulder. After two productive seasons with Seattle, his career seems to be heading in the right direction again.

Tyler Stephenson wasn’t so much villain as he was forgotten by many after concussions and a fractured collarbone swept him away from the diamond.

“On the morning of April 19, 2022, Tyler Stephenson woke up as a 25-year-old with a career .285/.368/.443 line in 151 games, part of a Reds team that was starting to generate a lot of young talent. That night in San Diego, Stephenson was run into by Luke Voit on a play at the plate, suffered a concussion, and hasn’t been the same since: .263/.329/.403, and at that, just a part-time catcher now, making 78 starts in 2023. As a catcher last year, he hit .206/.283/.357, and he’s just a guy defensively.”

The newsletter guy quoted above seems to blame Stephenson’s decline solely on concussion. It’s hard to ignore a broken right thumb and then a broken collarbone as contributors to the decline in production.

Of all the promises the 2024 season held for the Reds, the one I was most sure of was the return of Stephenson. I’d seen enough to believe in his skillset and his work ethic behind the plate. Last season, a finally healthy Tyler wasn’t going to just pick up where he’d left off before the injuries. He, like Suárez, needed a full year to retrain and trust his healed body. So, it is no surprise that Stephenson has begun to look like his old 2021 self, and not just “a guy.”

For Hunter Greene, it’s been multiple injuries that have set back his development into the dominant top-of-the-rotation starter the Reds envisioned when they drafted Greene with the overall #2 pick in 2017. The impatient fan frequently cites Greene’s inability to develop a third pitch. The Tommy John Flu is a devastating injury to suffer, requiring a long rehabilitation that takes place while the rest of baseball moves forward, hitters get smarter and teammates move on.

Baseball Prospectus took an interesting look at the ground-ball-friendly splitter and the intrepid hurlers that have added it to their repertoires this season. There are about 300 pitchers who pitched in the majors in 2023 who have taken on the task of learning the splitter in 2024. Only 10 have used it at least 2% of the time. Greene is one of those ten.

Greene has only thrown the splitter about 5% of the time, yet it remains useful as it gives hitters another pitch to contemplate. Still, its development has been spotty as he is still learning to command the offering. In fact, of the 10 who have experienced some success in adding it to their toolkit, only one has been able to show substantial gains with the pitch so far.

Adding a new pitch is a gnarly business. You have to locate it. You also have to add it while not taking away from other pitches that work as well. It’s even more difficult to do when your previous season was interrupted by a bum hip that lands one on the 60-day and a shoulder strain the season before that.

So, while missing 3 starting roster players has kept the Reds from an explosive start to the season, the club has kept its head above water as it awaits Greene’s and Stephenson’s emergence as one of the best batteries in the game. The Reds’ run differential early is +18 heading into a series with the Orioles, ranking them 10th in baseball. While the offense is on the struggle bus, the pitching has managed to shoulder much of the load and kept the Reds afloat. Getting Frankie Montas healthy and keeping Andrew Abbott’s arm out of harm’s way will help as we wait for Christian Encarnacion-Strand to figure it out.

In the interim, given what we know about injury and repair, we may want to give Friedl time to find his feet and relinquish the notion that Matt McLain is going return this season and be anything close to serious contributor.

More than anything, more than batting order and Will Benson’s bat, this season depends on the roster getting healthy—and staying healthy going forward. And keep running Elly De La Cruz around the diamond at Mach 10.

16 Responses

  1. Daytonnati

    BOOM! Welcome back, Richard, you’ve been missed.

    • Daytonnati

      Btw, the goatee is “gangsta”, as the kids say.

  2. Allan C

    Or – OR instead of waiting for players to maybe get healthy and bounce back, deal some minor league talent for a strong RH bat to bolster the lineup now, and make the team even better when certain pieces return.

    We’ve never seen this before from the Reds., so it most likely wont happen.

    But right now, Fairchild and Thompson aren’t getting it done. Espinal is the new Xavier Paul/ May is looking like a tough month. Maybe its time for them to push some chips into the center. How refreshing would that be?

    • Rob

      Right on the same page with you. I personally don’t see this about money. There are no RH OF hitters at Louisville. If you want to improve this team then go get yourself a1-2 year guy who can marginally play OF defense, can hit 240 ish, and who can bang a lot of HRs. Guys like Hoskins or Soler. Play 2-3 days/week in the OF and DH a couple of days. Right now we are settling for Martini, Fairchild, and Thompson and days when Fraley or Benson bat against lefties. Not good. Reeks of “making do”. We need offensive help sooner rather than later. Friedl will help but there is a case to be made that we need more soon. Marte will help some too but that is July. We could be 5-10 games out by then. Then what? We have a boatload of prospects and we can pretty easily fill the need by offering 2025-2026 guys who don’t have a gpot ahead of DLC, Marte, McLain, or Greene, Lodolo, or Ashcraft.

      • SR

        Defense costs us games too, and ours is weak as it is. Adding a no field,strikeout prone hitter is not an answer. We already have our quota of them. If we trade, let’s aim high and get an all around outfielder who can hit and field.

      • greenmtred

        The devil is always in the details, though. Which outfielders who fit the bill are actually available and at what cost? An established player who hits and fields well and, presumably, is competent against lefties and eighties is a valuable commodity. No team with hope of the playoffs would trade such a guy without exacting a high price.

      • greenmtred

        Eighties, not eighties. Lots of guys could do okay against pitchers who began their careers forty years ago and were still in somebody’s rotation.

      • greenmtred

        righties, not eighties, for God’s sake…

    • LWBlogger

      I agree with you @greenmtred, and I’ll go a step further. A playoff caliber team isn’t going to move such a player, likely at any price, with the exception of maybe a team that needs to add a mid-rotation, MLB-ready starting pitcher. I don’t see one the Reds could spare there. Lowder is the only such guy, and I don’t think they’d be wise to move him. Non-contending teams may be willing to move such a player, but the asking price is going to be very high.

      So my question to @AllanC is – If you’re the Reds’ GM, do you move a guy like Lowder, Marte, Arroyo, Phillips or Petty, plus a sweetener (high-ceiling/very-low floor guy outside the top 20), for the 1-2 year high-quality rental outfielder? I would be very hesitant to do so, but maybe you’d be more bold?

      • Allan C

        be bold. Cant play all the prospects, so trade some. Last year at the deadline, people said it was all about 2024. Well, its 2024. Time to win.

      • LWBlogger

        @Allan … It is well before the deadline now, and I think if they are bold, as you are advocating, it is best to pull the trigger on something here in May or June, than wait until the deadline. Guess we’ll wait and see if the Reds make a bold move or they act more conservatively. The team is over .500 with their injuries. A bold move could conceivably put them in a good spot going into the dog days and the home stretch. I wonder if the team would trade for an OF who actually cost some $$, but is as productive or more so than his contract suggests? Could maybe get a guy like that for one of the players I mentioned and the sweetener, sooner rather than later.

  3. west larry

    The reds need to sign Elle to a Votto like contract-maybe seven or eight years at 25 million a season. If they don’t offer that quickly, that won’t be enough money.

  4. Jim Walker

    This seems like a place to remind that it may be expecting too much of Friedl to come out of rehab and immediately perform to prior expectations over the grinding long haul remaining in this season. Wrists and hands tend to be taken for granted and recovery from injuries to them are often assumed to be routine, quick, and a given. Things don’t always turn out that way.

  5. Justin T

    I have been impressed by the teams fighting spirit early on. I do not seem to notice the manager as much, which is a good thing. I think the team has heart. The negativity that still looms as a Reds fan is the arrogance of the front office. They seem to enjoy patting themselves on the back for the influx of young talent without showing the ability to field a good roster to mix young guys w veterans. I just hope we can finally get back to evaluating the team on wins and losses and not make constant excuses.

    When the kid from Seattle was cut and said the Reds pitching philosophy was non existent, I seen alot of negativity regarding the player. He was simply saying what was obvious, but too many fans are drinking Krall’s koolaid they cant see the forest from the trees.

    The team needs to make a move at some point to save the season from going in the tubes. I read the box score the other night and to see the batting averages for the team it looked like a misprint. They didnt make a move last year and they wont this year. Because it would cost money. When Krall gets the Ok to spend money he spends 15 million a year for Candelario. I think we will win 3 lose 4 win 4 lose 3 all year and will settle in as a .500 club this year. The window closes a little more. I think David Bell has done a really good job this year with what he has.