CINCINNATI — It was 2012 and the Cincinnati Reds starting rotation did the near-impossible. The same five guys made every start but one. As the song and manager Bryan Price says, “Those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end.”
They ended. Quickly. Starting pitchers for the Reds these days spend more time in medical wraps than they do wearing baseball gloves.
In 2012, when Price was pitching coach, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey and Mat Latos made 33 starts, Bronson Arroyo made 32 and Mike Leake made 30. Nobody missed a single turn. There was one doubleheader that forced the Reds to call Todd Redmond up from the minors to make a start. And he lost.
SINCE THAT SEASON, THOUGH, the Reds have rolled pitchers through the rotation like jelly rolls through a bakery oven. And some have pitched like jelly rolls.
For example, the Reds have used eight starting pitchers in their first 40 games this year, with more to come.
“This isn’t unique because this is the third or fourth year of us doing this,” said Price. “It started in 2014 when Latos got hurt and Bailey got hurt. Then it just rolled on in ’15 and ’16, not having an intact rotation of what we expected.”
And ’17 has been the worst with the absence of Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani and Brandon Finnegan.
“It is not unique, but it is something you learn to deal with,” Price added. “We’ve become a lot better at handling and learning what to expect in 2017.”
PRICE SAYS THIS IS NOT A throwaway season just because three rotation staples are missing and the team is in a rebuilding cocoon.
“We’ve run a lot of rookie arms through here,” he said. “Some of them learned to swim here and some have sunk to the bottom. But it is one way of finding what we have in our system. We get to see who is a big-leaguer and who isn’t and who needs more seasoning and who doesn’t.
“We’re find out who is a starter and who is a relief pitcher,” Price said. “You know what? It has been a challenge and it is what we signed up for. We didn’t come out pounding our chests and saying, ‘We’re about to win a World Series.’
“However, all of the expectations in this building are that we are a better team than anybody expected us to be,” he said. “And for us to be better at our goals we have to be better in our rotation. We can’t sit around and wait for Bailey, Finnegan and DeSclafani. That’s unfair to our position players.”
DESCLAFANI PASSED A PHYSICAL exam Friday and is awaiting the Reds to give him a throwing program. It is a positive step, but even Price said, “He won’t be back soon.”
DeSclafani, on the disabled list since spring training with elbow problems, was in the clubhouse Friday and said, “Good news, I’m cleared to throw. They are putting a plan together today or tomorrow. I’ll start feeling like a baseball player again — put a glove on and throw a ball.”
IT IS THE SECOND STRAIGHT season that DeSclafani missed the first half of a season and he said, “Yeah, it stinks. It is pretty crappy for anybody to go through two years in a row. I hope last year and this year is the last time I’ll have to deal with anything, but I don’t know. I can’t read the future.”
Said Price, “He’ll begin a throwing program on Sunday. He is starting from scratch because it has been so long since he has thrown a ball. It will be like the first day of throwing in the off-season getting ready for spring training. But he is coming off injury so that time will be even a little more kicked back. Sunday will be just a test drive down the block and we’ll see if we can get him out of the neighborhood a couple of day after that.”
FOR BAILEY, IT IS THE third year of injury misery. But he is the closest of the three missing starters to coming back from his right elbow surgery.
“He has been throwing great (48 pitches recently during a mound session, 16 pitches in a simulated inning situation),” said Price. “He is doing full-out bullpens, the whole nine yards. He is close to live BP, maybe as soon as today (in Arizona). If he is able to do all his work today, he could pitch in a camp game May 24 in Arizona.”
“Finnegan threw on flat ground aggressively today,” said Price. “He is feeling great but with his type of injury (left shoulder lat strain) it has a timetable to rehab. That injury needs time to heal. He hasn’t been on an accelerated throwing program because the probability of re-injury is high. But he is close to getting back on the mound.”
OFT-INJURED AND STAR-CROSSED catcher Devin Mesoraco missed a few games on the just-completed 1-and-6 trip and his latest malady was a sore hamstring.
He passed some pre-game tests before Friday’s game but was not in the lineup because Price likes to give a player one extra day when he is 100 per cent.
“He did well on his tests and feels really good,” said Price. “But you never know about hamstrings, that’s just how they are. We’re trying to give him the extra time before he goes behind the plate and gets four or five at bats. Chances are he’ll be in the lineup Saturday and for sure by Sunday.
Mesoraco ran sprints, executed side-to-side exercises and moved in an out of a catcher’s crouch and said, “I feel good about it. I half expected maybe after I tested it I would be in there tonight (Friday). But I feel good about tomorrow for sure. Everything is good.”
QUOTE OF THE DAY
“Billy Hamilton is hitting the ball harder this year overall and what do we call it now, exit velocity? I’ve not gotten used to that term yet, but the ball is coming off his bat harder and if that’s exit velocity he has, then terrific. So be it.” — Manager Bryan Price.