Usher: Reds need to find answers for 2017

By Tom Usher -

It’s been and up and down first month for the Reds.

Imagine winning a game against Colorado when a Rockies’ baserunner missed third when he appeared to score from second on an single. He was actually called out when the Reds appealed him missing third base.

Then imagine the Reds losing a 16-0 no-hitter to the Cubs’ Jake Arrieta.

After getting off to a 5-1 start against the Phillies and Pirates, the youth and inexperience has quickly caught up with the Reds.

On the plus side, the starting rotation has shown occasional promise.

However, the bullpen has been horrible. And the hitting has been inconsistent.

Those are the main reasons the Reds stand 9-13.

With Aroldis Chapman traded to the Yankees, the closer job fell to J.J. Hoover.

So far Hoover has been on one of the worst stretches known to mankind. In 7 2/3 innings, he’s given up 13 earned runs and 14 hits for a 15.26 ERA. He’s given up four home runs.

Jumbo Diaz (5.40) wasn’t much better and was sent packing for AAA Louisville.

Ross Ohlendorf (6.10), Blake Wood (4.50), Tony Cingrani (4.15) and Drew Hayes (6.75) have all taken turns at being knocked around.

The only one consistently getting batters out is Caleb Cotham (1.54). J.C. Ramirez (3.60) may get a promotion to the back end of the pen, but he’s made only two appearances.

The Reds’ bullpen has an ERA of 6.22, compared to the starters’ mark of 4.87.

Overall, the team ERA is 5.45, which ranks 13th out of 15 teams in the league.

The starting rotation appears to have two to build around in right-hander Raisel Iglesias (1-1, 3.49) and lefty Brandon Finnegan (1-1, 3.86), who came to the Reds from Kansas City in the Johnny Cueto deal.

From there, they are hoping Jon Moscot (0-2, 4.02) or Dan Straily (0-0, 3.50) develop into a solid No. 3 starter.

There’s also No. 2-ranked prospect right-hander Robert Stephenson, who remains at AAA probably for financial reasons. In two fill-in starts with the Reds he’s 2-0 with a 3.00.

Homer Bailey is expected to return in May. He’s coming back from Tommy John surgery he had on May 8 last year. Also penciled in for a May return is Anthony DeSclafani, who is on his way back from a preseason oblique injury.

As for the everyday lineup, a huge plus has been the defensive play and hitting of Zack Cozart, who underwent surgery on his torn ACL last June 10. Cozart is hitting .397 with seven doubles and two home runs.

A concern after the first month is Devin Mesoraco (.140), who is coming off surgery on his hip labrum last June 29.

Joey Votto has struggled as well, but his average should move from its present mark of .221 back to its usual .300 mark. He’s a career .309 hitter.

Third baseman Eugenio Suarez hit .280 with 13 home runs in 372 at-bats last year when he filled in for Cozart at shortstop. While his defense at third has been shaky, he’s hitting .284 with five home runs and 15 RBI.

Jay Bruce is hitting to all fields and is batting .265, compared to the .226 he hit last year.

So far University of Louisville product Adam Duvall, who the Reds got from the Giants in the Mike Leake deal, looks promising. He’s hitting .241 with two home runs and five RBI.

A major concern is center fielder Billy Hamilton. Now in his third year, the career .240 hitter, is batting .184 with an on-base percentage of only .259.

Here are the keys the Reds need to establish as they look ahead.

Can the Reds count on three solid starting pitchers to build around for 2017? So far it looks like they have two, Iglesias and Finnegan.

Can the Reds find one or two solid members of the pen? Good luck with that.

Can the Reds determine if Hamilton will be the starting center field for 2017? If he can’t hit about .220 this year, it’s time to go in another direction.

Can the Reds count on Duvall to be the everyday left fielder in 2017? It’s way too early to tell.

By Tom Usher

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