Preview: Questions linger regarding Reds’ starting pitching


By Tom Usher - sports@limanews.com



Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto was the runner-up in 2017 National League MVP voting after hitting .320 and leading the league in walks (134) and on base percentage (.454). He also had 34 doubles, 36 home runs, scored 106 runs, drove in 100 and racked up 323 total bases.

Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto was the runner-up in 2017 National League MVP voting after hitting .320 and leading the league in walks (134) and on base percentage (.454). He also had 34 doubles, 36 home runs, scored 106 runs, drove in 100 and racked up 323 total bases.


CINCINNATI — The Reds’ organization officially pushed the reboot button in July of 2015.

That’s when they traded Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake within days of each other.

Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman were dealt five months later.

So where are the Reds now?

The everyday lineup is respectable. Last year the Reds ranked eighth in the N.L. in hitting at .253.

The pitching, however, often has the look of an open tryout camp.

The Reds (68-94) ranked last in the league in ERA (5.17). Breaking it down, the starters ranked last (5.55 ERA), while the bullpen was 14th out of 15 (4.65).

Here’s the position-by-position breakdown:

Catcher

Tucker Barnhart, from Brownsburg, Ind., has gone from backup to one of the top catchers in baseball.

He won the Gold Glove last year by throwing out a major league-high 32 runners. Barnhart tossed out 32 of 73 (44 percent) runners who tried to steal.

He also hit a career-high .270 (on-base percentage .347) with 24 doubles and seven home runs.

Devin Mesoraco’s numerous surgeries (hip/shoulder) have turned him into the backup. He hit .213.

Grade: A-

First base

Joey Votto, the MVP in 2010, was the runner-up for the MVP last year to Giancarlo Stanton.

All Votto did was hit .320 and led the league in walks (134) and on base percentage (.454). He also had 34 doubles, 36 home runs and scored 106 runs. He drove in 100 and racked up 323 total bases.

The MLB Network ranked him the No. 1 first baseman in baseball.

He is truly one of the Reds’ all-time greats. In 11 years, his career average is .313.

Grade: A+

Second base

It certainly was a career year for Scooter Gennett, who hit .295 with 27 home runs and 97 RBI. And he did all that in 461 at-bats.

Those numbers may be tough to duplicate. But it’s not like he’s a career .220 hitter. His lifetime average is .283 and he hit 14 home runs for Milwaukee in 2016.

And this year Gennett will be playing every day.

He doesn’t have the range of Gold Glover Brandon Phillips at second, but Gennett had only seven errors at second last year.

Grade: B+

Shortstop

Zack Cozart signed with the Angels, so the job is now Jose Peraza’s.

Peraza began last year at second before Gennett took full control of the job. Peraza has the speed (23 stolen bases), but his batting average dropped from .324 to .259. His on-base was a miniscule .297.

His glove is adequate, but he isn’t nearly as smooth as Cozart.

If Peraza struggles, the team’s No. 1 prospect third baseman Nick Senzel will get the call from AAA.

Grade: C

Third base

Eugenio Suarez recently signed a seven-year deal for $66 million, which takes him through 2024.

In his last two years with the Reds, he’s averaged 25 doubles and 23 home runs. Last year he had 26 homers, batted .260 and had an on-base of .367. He had 246 total bases.

He’s only 26 and his defensive improvement has been off the charts, as he lowered his errors from 23 in 2016 to nine last year.

Grade: B+

Outfield

First, consider the Reds have two of the best defensive outfielders in baseball, left fielder Adam Duvall and center fielder Billy Hamilton. Both were finalists for the Gold Glove. Duvall led the N.L. in outfield assists (15), while Hamilton was second (13).

Duvall, from the University of Louisville, has plenty of power (31 home runs, 37 doubles, 282 total bases), but needs to get on base more often. He hit .249 with 170 strikeouts and an on-base of only .301. Duvall’s second half (.212, 11 HRs) was a concern.

Hamilton is one of the fastest humans on the planet. He can track down balls in either alley and can steal bases nearly at will. He’s stolen at least 50 bases in each of his four full seasons. He was second in the league in stolen bases (59) and triples (11). But his bat often looks like a soggy noodle (.247 average) and he rarely walks (.299 on base).

Scott Schebler is a lot like Duvall. He has plenty of power (30 home runs, 25 doubles), but struck out 125 times. He hit only .233 with a .307 on-base.

Jesse Winker will see action in a time share with Hamilton and Schebler. Winker hit .298 with seven home runs in 121 at-bats.

Grade: B-

Starting pitching

When you have the worst rotation in the league (5.55 ERA for starters), you have to do more than sprinkle magic dust on the mound and hope for the best.

That’s essentially what the Reds did this offseason.

All hope is based on the youngsters improving and Anthony DeSclafani (elbow) and Brandon Finnegan (shoulders) returning to good health.

Unfortunately, DeSclafani is on the shelf again. This time he has a strained oblique and could be out for a significant amount of time.

Homer Bailey returned from elbow surgery last year and made 18 starts. It was a roller-coast return (6-9, 6.43). Bailey, at 31, has had three elbow surgeries.

Who knows what he has left?

A huge bright spot in the rotation is 24-year-old Luis Castillo, who rolled out a dominating assortment of pitches after he was called up from AA. He had a 3.12 ERA in 15 starts. He struck out 98 in 89 innings. Opponents hit .202 off him.

Sal Romano compiled a 4.45 in 16 starts. He displayed command of his off-speed pitches in his final five starts when he had a 3.49.

Keeping Finnegan healthy is a big key. He injured both shoulders and had surgery on his non-throwing right shoulder in July. Finnegan was limited to four starts last year (4.15). He made 31 starts in 2016 with a 3.98. Finnegan is currently recovering from a left forearm spasm.

Others vying for a spot are Tyler Mahle (2.70, four starts) and Amir Garrett (7.39).

Grade: D-

Bullpen

Raisel Iglesias has quickly become an elite close. He saved 28 games with a 2.49. The one-time starter struck out 92 in 76 innings. Opponents hit .207 off him.

Michael Lorenzen was up and down with a 4.45 in a workman-like 83 innings.

Another set-up man is Wandy Peralta (3.76).

The Reds signed two free agent relievers in David Hernandez (3.11, last year with Diamondback and Angels) and Jared Hughes (3.02 with the Brewers).

Grade: C-

Overall

The Reds’ rotation has way too many issues to be successful. Every starter has a question mark of youth/inexperience or injury history hanging over his head.

There should be some improvement with the young arms, but it won’t be enough to transform this team into a contender.

At least the everyday lineup is respectable.

It may be time to bring up mega prospect Senzel and turn him loose.

Prediction: 73-89

Cincinnati first baseman Joey Votto was the runner-up in 2017 National League MVP voting after hitting .320 and leading the league in walks (134) and on base percentage (.454). He also had 34 doubles, 36 home runs, scored 106 runs, drove in 100 and racked up 323 total bases.
https://www.limaohio.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/54/2018/03/web1_03.25.18.votto_.jpgCincinnati first baseman Joey Votto was the runner-up in 2017 National League MVP voting after hitting .320 and leading the league in walks (134) and on base percentage (.454). He also had 34 doubles, 36 home runs, scored 106 runs, drove in 100 and racked up 323 total bases.

By Tom Usher

sports@limanews.com

The Lima News sports department can be reached at 567-242-0451.

The Lima News sports department can be reached at 567-242-0451.

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