Reds four-man outfield rotation may soon shrink to three

Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton makes a catch against the Cardinals on Sunday, April 15, 2018, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff

CINCINNATI — The Four-Man Theme for the Cincinnati Reds outfield is still in place and will remain in place for the immediate time, but manager Jim Riggleman indicated that times they are a-changin’ not too far into the distance.

The four rotating outfielders are Billy Hamilton, Adam Duvall, Scott Schebler and Jesse Winker. Some day it will be three regulars and a fourth outfielder.

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“I can’t tell you when that will exactly be yet,” said manager Jim Riggleman. “It will be an organizational decision, along with the manager and coaches. As to at one point does one of them become a fourth outfielder I can’t say, but it will take place.

“We’re going to give it as much time as we can and see of those four guys which one doesn’t play up to expectations,” he added.

Which one is the front-runner for a bench-side seat?

Of the four, Billy Hamilton owns the worst offensive statistics, although he has picked it up in the last week. Riggleman, though, makes it clear he prefers Hamilton in the lineup.

“The players will determine it with their performances and Billy has picked it up lately,” said Riggleman. “Billy is ‘The Guy’ that we need so bad in centerfield. There is talk that this ball park is not that big, but it shows up here, too. He makes plays nobody else can make.”

Riggleman said he didn’t know Hamilton’s on-base percentage, “but it is probably creeping toward .320.” Actually, it is .322 and with his recent surge his batting average crept above the Mendoza Line to .204.

“That’s what we want from him,” said Riggleman. “If his on-base percentage is good he creates a lot of issues for the other club — whether it is a base hit or a walk. He puts pressure on the defense. If he is on base, that’s what we need and he has moved in that direction in the last week.”

Hamilton took a five-game hitting streak into Monday’s game, batting .400 with a .526 on-base percentage, six hits, four walks, two doubles, three runs scored and one RBI.

Riggleman praised Winker, who is hitting .287 with a .401 on-base percentage, by saying, “He probably has been the most consistent.”

Duvall has exhibited his usual home run power with five and has driven in 16 runs while hitting .161 and striking out 32 times in 112 at bats.

“Some of Duvall’s numbers look OK, but he knows he is not doing what he can do,” said Riggleman. “You respect the fact he has been a 100 RBI guys the last two years and you can’t dismiss that. Schebler? He has been up and down. But we’re still wading through all this a little bit.”

Riggleman put his stamp of approval on Duvall’s defense in left field and said, “He is really good defensively. He was right there in the running for a Gold Glove left fielder last year. We miss him when he is not out there. And he throws accurately to all the bases and he throws runners out. He gets great jumps on the ball. When you are playing the run prevention game you want him and Billy Hamilton out there.”

THE OTHER MAJOR PLAYER personnel situation is pitcher Brandon Finnegan — in or out of the rotation? He is 0-and-3 this year and the Reds have lost all five of his starts. He hasn’t won a game in more than year, since last April.

“Nothing is jumping out at us as to who would replace him,” said Riggleman. “I can’t tell you how many more starts we are going to go, but certainly we can’t be down 4-0 and 5-0 routinely. That means we have to get guys up and down early in the game and wear them out in the bullpen before they even get into a game.

“Nobody is more aware of that than Brandon,” Riggleman added. “He knows that this has not been satisfactory. He’ll get his next start, get four days to figure something out and hopefully give us a good ball game in Los Angeles.”

THE REDS MADE a roster move before Monday’s game after Riggleman had to use up the bullpen in Sunday’s 8-5 loss to Miami. They brought up pitcher Jackson Stephens, a starter at Class AAA Louisville, and they sent back relief pitcher Kevin Shackelford.

“We need some length in the bullpen and Jackson can give us four or five innings, if needed,” said Riggleman. “Shackelford did a good job for us, but he has pitched two days in a row and he couldn’t be a guy going out there to pitch three or four innings.”

Asked if that is what happens when the starters give the team less than five innings, Riggleman said, “Yes, and it affects a lot of things. It affects bullpen usage and it affects how many extra players you can carry on the bench. We had a fresh bullpen going into Sunday’s game, but we had to use a bunch of it trying to stay in the game and win the game. You hate to use that much of it in a losing cause.”

He used everybody but closer Raisel Iglesias.

“I like what Jackson Stephens did in the past when he was up here and I was a coach,” said Riggleman. “He is young (turns 24 this week) but throws strikes and gets his breaking ball over. He was scheduled to start for Louisville tonight. I trust what he has done up here in the past.”

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