The Reds Find a Tiny Ray of Sunshine

A series win and the return of Luis Castillo offer some hope for a team decimated by injuries and Covid.

In a season where almost nothing has gone right for the Cincinnati Reds, a couple of tiny rays of sunshine have appeared. Cincinnati finally captured a series for the first time all season, winning two of three against the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates over the weekend. Then on Monday evening, ace starter Luis Castillo returned from his shoulder injury to make his first start of the season.

Castillo was uneven in his season debut against Milwaukee, allowing three runs on three hits and three walks while striking out five Brewers in 4.2 innings. And while the Reds were able to secure a victory (the first back to back wins of the season!) Cincinnati is still 17 games below .500 in last place, owners of the worst record in either league. Tiny rays of sunshine, indeed.

No one can dispute that a rash of injuries has contributed mightily to the Reds’ historically inept start to the 2022 season. Even after Castillo and outfielder Tyler Naquin returned to the active roster in recent days, Cincinnati still had 14 players on the injured list. Several were long-term injuries—Max Schrock (calf), Tejay Antone (elbow), Justin Dunn (shoulder), Daniel Duarte (elbow)—while the rest are on the 10-day or Covid IL lists. And they include some of the most important players on Cincinnati’s roster.

Reigning NL Rookie of the Year Jonathan India has been beset by a bad hamstring. Joey Votto, coming off an amazing age-37 season, is on the Covid list. Mike Moustakas (Covid), Nick Senzel (Covid), and Jose Barrero (hand) were expected to see plenty of action for the 2022 team, and they’ve been in and (mostly) out of the lineup. Jake Fraley (knee) was in the Opening Day lineup, and we can argue about whether he’s an important piece of this Reds puzzle, but he certainly became important after so many players went missing.

Fraley, in particular, highlights the real reason that all these injuries have had such a devastating impact on the club. He wasn’t supposed to be a starter on this club, but the Reds really needed him to be available and to produce once Senzel, Naquin, and Barrero became unavailable. But due primarily to the off-season fire sale and the continued day-to-day mismanagement of the roster, Cincinnati has no depth whatsoever. As Ken Rosenthal noted over at The Athletic:

The larger problem is that a gap in the Reds’ farm system forced the team to fill about three-quarters of its Triple-A roster with minor-league free agents, as opposed to prospects on the verge of major-league breakthroughs. The injuries pushed some of those minor-league free agents to the majors.

Listen, every single team in the league is going to be forced to deal with injuries. The Reds have had more than their share, sure, but it happens to everyone. And it’s why competent organizations plan for that inevitability. Teams that intend to compete for championships don’t depend on minor-league free agents to be the second line of defense. The Reds, to put it lightly, did not plan for this eventuality.

Think about it: Reds GM Nick Krall, at the behest of Bob and Phil “Where ya’ gonna go?” Castellini, dumped a boatload of big league talent before the season even began. In a brazen attempt to lower the payroll, Krall and company traded away Tucker Barnhart (Gold Glover), Sonny Gray (All-Star), Jesse Winker (All-Star), Eugenio Suarez (All-Star), and Amir Garrett (slam dunk champion) over the winter. They also gave Wade Miley away for free, and let Nick Castellanos (All-Star) leave town without even offering him a contract.

As a result, the Reds entered the season with a roster thinner than my hair. And when a few guys were unavailable because of injury, Cincinnati had no one to replace them. An example: The Reds began the year with three rookies and a second-year starter in the rotation. With Nick Lodolo injured and Reiver Sanmartin demoted to AAA after posting a 13.78 ERA, Reds manager David Bell found himself without a starting pitcher for the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader. Literally! Bell’s explanation for using relievers Dauri Moreta, Phillip Diehl, and waiver wire pickup Robert Dugger to open the game was revealing: “We really didn’t have a starter.”

A major league baseball team did not have a starting pitcher available. It’s hard to imagine a more damning indictment of management. Does this team even care? As Steve Mancuso noted, Krall knew this doubleheader was on the schedule for at least a month, and he “didn’t get an extra starter lined up to be available. (And it probably) cost them the game.”

To his credit, I suppose, Krall accepts the fingers pointing in his general direction. “If somebody wants to blame somebody, they should blame me,” he said. “We don’t have enough depth to combat this. Did we do a good enough job in the offseason of signing players, making trades? Maybe not.”

Everyone knows it’s not entirely Krall’s fault; he has been put in an impossible position by an ownership group that does not, and will never, love Reds fans the way fans love the team. (#SellTheTeamBob.) But you can’t excuse Krall’s failures, either. With four players in recent days going on the Covid list, it’s clear that roster flexibility is even more important this year than ever before. And it’s also clear that Krall did not do “a good enough job” in the off-season, at least from the perspective of putting together a roster that could withstand some adversity.

From the perspective of shedding payroll, however, Krall did a wonderful job. I’m guessing his bosses are perfectly happy with his job performance. Meanwhile, Reds fans are left to suffer.

Oh well. Where ya’ gonna go?

Chad Dotson authors Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, The Riverfront. His first book, The Big 50: The Men and Moments That Made the Cincinnati Reds, is available in bookstores and online.

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