CINCINNATI — Ready or not, lefthander Brandon Finnegan is likely to make his Cincinnati Reds debut Wednesday. He is the likely starter against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Ready? A couple of scouts who saw him pitch recently for the Class AAA Louisville Bats say, “Not.”
Said one, “I saw him last week and he couldn’t throw strikes. In about five innings he threw about 100 pitches and I’d bet not 35 were for strikes. He was all over the place, no command at all.”
The scout then laughed and said, “Now watch him come up and throw a no-hitter.”
ANOTHER SCOUT said, “He isn’t ready. And he is best suited for the bullpen.”
Finnegan is only 22 years old and made a quick name for himself last year when he became the first pitcher in history to pitch in the College World Series and in the big league World Series in the same year.
After starting for Texas Christian University in the 2014 College World Series, the Kansas City Royals drafted him No. 1 and he was with the Royals in the 2014 potseason as a relief pitcher He appeared in seven post-season games for the Royals.
Finnegan then was the key piece, or as Reds manager Bryan Price calls him, “The featured player,” in the trade of Johnny Cueto to the Royals.
THE REDS SEE HIM as a starting pitcher and have stretched him out at Louisville where he has struggled. In eight starts he is 0-and-3 with a 6.23 earned run average. He has given up 31 hits and 21 earned runs in 30 1/3 innings and walked 17 while striking out 30.
“It is Finnegan’s day to pitch — he pitched on (September) the fourth,” said Price.
There is another option. Keyvius Sampson only pitched three innings in his last start and could be brought back a day early and Price could use his bullpen behind Sampson, especially long man Pedro Villarreal.
But Price expressed how he feels about that by saying, “I don’t like getting convoluted. I don’t like laying things out like it’s a spring training game. It lacks a certain sense of professionalism.”
FINNEGN WAS STRETCHED out to 88 pitches in his last start, “So he can definitely start or give us some help in long relief.”
Of Finnegan’s Triple-A troubles, Price said, “It is mostly about managing a lineup. Here is a guy who little more than a year ago was pitching in college. He was a college starting pitcher.”
The Royals, though, put him in the bullpen and Price said, “He was able to be isolated for an inning or two at the big league level and let his stuff play up. His velocity was off the charts and his hard slider was a great combination in the role he was used.”
Scouts who have watched him at Louisville say the velocity was 91 to 94, which is far from off the charts. These days it is far down the charts.
“We’re reverting back to him being a college starter and taking him to Triple-A and telling him, ‘Here, managed a lineup three times through.’ It is a huge jump and a huge change. He is in a time right now to mature as a starter. We like his stuff. His stuff has been good, but it is a matter of harnessing it and throwing a higher percentage of strikes.”
Of his command problems, Price added, “He is in a new organization and he is the featured player in a big trade. And he’s a young man, just 22 years old. He came on the scene so incredibly fast that the expectations go through the roof on what he should be able to do. What he really is is a guy a year removed from college working his way back to becoming a starting pitcher at the Triple-A level and that’s very challenging.
“The feeling is that he could be pitching in relief in the major league bullpen right now, but the ceiling is where we were with Aroldis Chapman. Do we really want to commit to the bullpen when the kid could potentially be a starting pitcher. And his value to us is as a starter.”
BILLY HAMILTON’S first game on rehab at Class AA Pensacola was a success — no problems with his shoulder. He made a few throws with no discomfort, had a hit and scored from first on a double.
While Hamilton’s low batting average and abysmal on-base percentage haven’t been missed, his glovework in center field has left a black hole.
“The interesting thing about Billy’s hiaatus is that we’ve all talked about his offensive production and his on-base percentage, but what a difference he makes daily in center field,” said Price. “It is a standout difference. It is nothing against any other player. It would happen with any team in the league.
“If Billy Hamilton is your center fielder and you remove him and put anybody else in there, well, he is just a defensive difference-maker,” Price added. “He is an elite defender. And when he is not in center field, you notice it. You then realize what you haveve, underlines the importance of Billy’s presence on this team. We all want to focus on his offensive maturity, but the defensive maturity is so far above the expectations that I had when he made our club last year. When he isn’t out there, it is so, so noticeable. You get spoiled by his defense. There is nobody in the same class as Billy as far as the balls he can chase down.”