Austin Brice. Dylan Floro. Jared Hughes. Not exactly Charlton, Dibble, and Myers of Nasty Boys lore, but they’re three of the principal relievers to know when doling out credit for the respectability restored to the Reds’ bullpen. That resurgence—running hand in hand with a recent six-game win streak that coincided with the Reds garnering “Bullpen of the Week” honors from MLB.com—has breathed life into a campaign that’s improved from full-blown, lose-all-hope apathy after an 8-27 start threatened the very foundations of the Rebuild. (Admittedly the 0-2 start in San Francisco threw cold water on the good vibes emanating from the four-game sweep of the Dodgers.)
To be clear, there’s plenty of dap to go around for the Reds’ recent run of success. Eugenio Suarez’s .914 OPS has him dipping his toe into Nolan Arenado’s esteemed waters. Joey Votto is doing Joey Votto things. Scooter Gennett hasn’t stopped hitting since he joined the club hours before Opening Day 2017. Luis Castillo’s arm slot change is paying dividends. But it’s time to pay homage to a rejuvenated relief corps that is two years removed from establishing a new major league record for consecutive games with at least one run allowed.
A clear signal that the Reds were at least attempting to sniff decency in 2018 were the signings of Hughes and David Hernandez, two productive veteran relievers, to $9.25 million worth of guaranteed contracts. Hernandez missed the first month of the season with injury but has since proven his worth (2.00 ERA, 11 strikeouts in 9 innings pitched). Hughes has been rock-solid (1.52 ERA, 20 strikeouts in 23.2 IP). Factor in strong showings by Brice (4.30 ERA, 25 strikeouts in 23 IP); Floro (1.69 ERA, 16 strikeouts in 16 IP); Amir Garrett (1.57 ERA, 26 strikeouts in 23 IP); and the usual splendor via closer Raisel Iglesias (1.37 ERA, 23 strikeouts in 19.2 IP) and you’ve got a pen that’s risen from historically terrible to mostly league average.
Truthfully, the bullpen’s numbers are actually better than what the cold hard digits indicate. Four pitchers (Yovani Gallardo, Kevin Quackenbush, Tanner Rainey, and Zack Weiss) who aren’t on the current 25-man roster represent 8 percent of the total innings pitched but 39 percent of the earned runs allowed.
The yearly dumpster fire in the bullpen played a central role in the Reds churning through one manager, two pitching coaches and 94 losses in each of the past two seasons. Though the Rebuild remains ongoing—and at times, appears everlasting—at least the bullpen’s annual clown show has left town.
Grant Freking is the associate editor for Signs of the Times magazine. You can follow him on Twitter at @GrantFreking.