Here’s What We Learned in the Reds’ First Four Games

Nick Martini straight to the team’s Hall of Fame? Apologies to Jonathan India? Start printing playoff tickets? All of the above.
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Baseball is back, and the first weekend of games in Cincinnati were a rollercoaster affair filled with comebacks and blown leads and unlikely stars. The hometown nine won two out of three games against Washington before taking the series opener in Philly on Monday; if the Reds maintain that pace all season long, they’ll finish with a record of 122-40. That’s even better than the 95-win campaign I predicted last week. I’ll take it.

The baseball season is a long one, so we shouldn’t draw any grand conclusions based on three or four games in March and on April Fool’s Day. On the other hand, it’s a good opportunity to assess what we learned over the first weekend of games and what we still don’t know.

Is Frankie Montas going to be better than advertised? Montas, acquired over the winter on a one-year/$14 million contract (with a mutual option for another year), was one of the best pitchers in the American League back in 2019, when he went 13-9 with a 3.37 ERA for Oakland, finishing sixth in Cy Young balloting. Since then, he’s experienced a mix of ineffectiveness and injury—he appeared in only one game last year thanks to a shoulder injury.

A surprise Opening Day starter, Montas looked the part of an ace by spinning six shutout innings while allowing only four hits. He worked fast, changed speeds, and threw strikes. His continued success would go a long way in stabilizing the Cincinnati rotation.

Will the bullpen be a sore spot again? Seems like the Reds haven’t had a good bullpen since the Nasty Boys, and last year was no exception. Closer Alexis Diaz was an All-Star in 2023, but he had a 4.30 ERA in the second half, including an 8.38 ERA over his final 12 appearances. Things didn’t get any better in his first outing of 2024; Diaz entered with a two-run lead in the ninth inning and departed after collecting just one out while giving up three runs, two hits, two walks, and the ballgame. He did get five big outs in the eighth and ninth innings of Monday’s contest against the Phillies.

Free agent acquisition Emilio Pagan gave up a homer in his first appearance for the club, a problem that’s plagued him throughout his career. On Sunday, Buck Farmer and Tejay Antone put the Reds in jeopardy by surrendering two runs on three hits and three walks while collecting only three outs.

The one bright spot: Brent Suter, the local kid who debuted for his hometown team by striking out the side on Opening Day.

Will this team battle like last year’s Rallyin’ Reds? Early returns are that this year’s club will keep fighting until the final pitch, just like last year’s Comeback Kids. Down two runs on Sunday—and down to their final out—Jonathan India stepped to the plate and fouled off five consecutive pitches at one point before doubling to left on the 10th pitch he saw. Will Benson and Christian Encarnacion-Strand then hit back-to-back home runs for a walkoff win. It turned a potentially demoralizing weekend into one that left fans feeling optimistic.

Can Will Benson produce against lefties? Thanks to the outfield injuries and lack of depth, Benson has gotten an opportunity to start against two left-handed pitchers so far this year, after being utilized almost solely against righties in his productive first season in Cincinnati. Against lefty Patrick Corbin, Benson had a double and a walk in two plate appearances but then went 0-2 against Philadelphia’s Cristopher Sánchez on Monday.

To this point in his career, he’s put up a slash line of just .149/.231/.213 against southpaws. If Benson can be relatively productive against lefties, he becomes a far more valuable player.

Will Cincinnati’s defense and baserunning be this sloppy all season long? It appears the Reds will continue to be aggressive, with eight stolen bases in the first four games. That aggression comes at a cost, however. In Saturday’s loss, Elly De La Cruz was called out after over-sliding a base and Will Benson was picked off first. On Monday, India was thrown out at home in the top of the first after inexplicably deciding not to slide.

The defense has been just as sloppy. De La Cruz had a throwing error on Opening Day. In game two, the Reds allowed two pop-ups to fall in for hits, and pitcher Hunter Greene booted a ground ball. The Reds will need to tighten up in both areas.

Can Hunter Greene take the next step in his development? The jury is still out. In his first start, Greene looked like the same Hunter we’ve come to know over the last three seasons. Now 24, he gave up only two runs and four hits in his first outing but pitched just four and two-thirds innings thanks to four walks and a lack of pitch efficiency. At his best, Greene is as good as anyone in the league. He’ll need to be more consistent this year if he wants to make his manager regret not giving him the Opening Day nod.

Should everyone apologize to Jonathan India? Over the winter, it appeared that India would be relegated to a utility position thanks to all the depth in Cincinnati’s infield … or even traded. This spring, he took reps at first base and outfield in order to find a way onto the field.

That was before Noelvi Marte was suspended and Matt McLain underwent surgery. All of a sudden, India was back in his familiar home at second base, hitting in the leadoff spot. He took a walk in his very first at-bat of the season, keyed the comeback victory on Sunday, and is hitting .333/.444/.533 with a double, a triple, and three walks over the season’s first four games. India is also clearly the heart of the club. He’s a big reason why the Reds have won three of their first four games.

Will the Reds induct Nick Martini into the Hall of Fame before the season ends, or wait until he retires? Martini will turn 34 in a couple of months. He just played in his first-ever Opening Day game and crushed two home runs, only the second Reds player to accomplish that feat. (The legendary Adam Dunn hit two homers on Opening Day twice, in 2005 and 2007.) In game two, Martini’s eighth inning double scored two and gave the Reds a lead.

In 32 games for the Reds over the last two seasons, Martini is hitting .288/.352/.663 with eight home runs. Go ahead and induct him now.

I know, I know, there’s a lot of season still to be played. Here’s something else I know: The Reds had 10 or more hits in each of the first three games of the season for the first time since the championship season of 1990.

Start printing the playoff tickets, Redlegs.

Chad Dotson helms Reds coverage at Cincinnati Magazine and hosts a long-running Reds podcast, The Riverfront. His newsletter about Cincinnati sports can be found at chaddotson.com. He’s @dotsonc on Twitter.

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