Another Rotation Domino Falls

A major Reds grievance on Twitter—and what a 2018 phrase that is—about last season stemmed from confusion: Why did a rebuilding team destined for 94 defeats permit a journeyman (Tim Adleman) and a 34-year-old (Scott Feldman) to pace the pitching staff in innings pitched? Yes, those are the same Tim Adleman that now pitches for the Korea Baseball Organization’s Samsung Lions and the same Scott Feldman that remains a free agent as baseball nears the All-Star Break.

None of the Reds’ touted young pitchers cracked 100 innings in the majors in 2017. Luis Castillo (89.1 innings) and Sal Romano (87) were admittedly close—the former skipped Triple-A entirely, while the latter accumulated 49.1 frames before being promoted—but they were the exceptions. Former first round pick and future Louisville Bat Hall of Famer Robert Stephenson netted 84.2 innings, but only 11 starts. Cody Reed, one of the prized pieces acquired when Johnny Cueto was traded to the Royals in July 2015, garnered one start. Meanwhile, 40-year-old Bronson Arroyo started 14 games. In the Reds’ defense, they did provide starting opportunities to Amir Garrett and Rookie Davis (remember him?) out of spring training, but both pitched their way out of the rotation through a combination of injuries and poor performance. Nonetheless, 2017 remains an opportunity missed.

In 2018, much-needed young arm categorizing has occurred in place of veteran favoritism. Adleman, Feldman, and Arroyo are long gone. Castillo, Romano, and hyped right-hander Tyler Mahle have made 16 starts apiece and rank third, second, and first on the team respectively in innings pitched. Garrett (2.59 ERA, 49 strikeouts in 41.2 innings) has thrived in the bullpen. Anthony DeSclafani, a solid rotation mainstay from 2015-16, has returned from injury and looked (mostly) like his former self through four starts. An ineffective and probably washed-up Homer Bailey made way for a more effective Matt Harvey—who has allowed three earned runs or fewer in three straight starts—an impending free agent who likely has a maximum of a month worth of starts remaining as a Red before he’s shipped off to a contender, which (hopefully) clears a path for Stephenson or Reed’s latest audition.

Further sorting came earlier this week with the news that Brandon Finnegan, the author of 44 substandard starts since his arrival in the Cueto trade, would be moving to the bullpen after notching a 7.24 ERA in eight starts at Triple-A Louisville. The adjustment makes sense on many levels: Finnegan enjoyed previous high-profile success as a reliever; during his lone full season as a starter in 2016, his 11.4% walk rate was the highest of 71 qualified MLB starting pitchers; and the rotation picture has come into focus since his demotion earlier this season. Mahle and Castillo, and to a lesser extent Romano, have room to grow but have shown consistency over the past month. DeSclafani isn’t going anywhere. And it would be a shock to this author if the front office did not dip into its deep prospect reserves and failed to add a top-of-the-rotation talent via trade prior to next season. Factor in Stephenson, Reed, and the possible addition of another veteran through trade or free agency, and it was clear that Finnegan had fallen way behind in the pecking order.

Good vibrations are all-around in Redsland following the club’s recent seven-game win streak, an impressive run that served as a near-bookend for Cincinnati’s 30-28 record since its season-killing 3-18 beginning. And with a strong offense and sturdy bullpen taking shape, an average rotation is the last step between the Reds and respectability.

Grant Freking is the associate editor for Signs of the Times magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.

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