Coming into this season everyone knew there would be turnover in the Cincinnati rotation after offseason deals removed two of last year’s starting pitchers. Since the beginning of spring training Homer Bailey’s rehab progress from an elbow surgery has him doubtful to be ready for the first game of the season making a third spot to fill. Of the candidates Tony Cingrani perhaps had the best resume with a splendid rookie season when he covered for the oft-injured Johnny Cueto two seasons ago. However, recent comments from Reds skipper Bryan Price sound like the left-hander is bound for the bullpen.
It doesn’t come as a huge surprise after injuries slowed him at the end of the 2013 season and reduced him to only eleven appearances last year. Even though he was developed in the minors as a starter, he has relief experience after a collegiate career as a lockdown closer for Rice. Also, in spite of Cingrani’s past success, there has been attention given to an overdependence on his fast ball, limited pitch variety, and tendency to run up his pitch count fast, which aren’t big concerns for a reliever. There’s also need for a lefty reliever to replace Sean Marshall who has been limited by injuries to a combined 31 appearances over the last two seasons and has an uncertain timetable on his return.
That leaves the question if not Cingrani, then who will round out the rotation after returnees Cueto and Mike Leake? Right now a pair of journeymen are making strong cases. Jason Marquis has allowed only one run in nine innings while lefty Paul Maholm has tossed five shutout frames. A couple of candidates that will not make the opening day roster are David Holmberg and Dylan Axelrod who were both optioned to Louisville Monday. That leaves Cuban defector Raisel Iglesias amd Anthony DeSclafani as the last men standing. Iglesias doesn’t have the preferred frame for a starting pitcher, but Cueto has shown that’s not a necessity and reports are that he has a sufficient repertoire on the mound to work a lot of innings.
At first that might sound a bit scary for Reds fans, especially after the consistency they’ve enjoyed from their rotation over recent seasons. Maholm is 32 years old and tore an ACL last year. Marquis is 36 and had Tommy John surgery in 2013. To be honest, even if they both return to earlier form, it’s not really anything to get excited about. Both have only one season in the past three in which they’ve logged more than 100 innings. Marquis has a lifetime ERA around a mid-four and Maholm is at 4.30.
The first good news is that although he’s won’t be available on opening day, Bailey’s return is expected soon after. Of course the wild card is Iglesias who could turn out to be quite good. Even though his previous experience in the Cuban league was as a reliever comments from the Cincinnati front office have been bullish on him starting since they signed him to a $27 million deal last year. Depending on how MLB ready he is that leaves only one suspect in the rotation. Of course Reds fan would prefer to continue seeing Leake as their five-man, but budget constraints have pulled him up to the middle of the rotation.
In other news, a shoulder injury to Jason Bourgeois has removed him from contention of making the opening day roster as a reserve outfielder. The Cincinnati bench was already thin and he was the only utility outfield candidate that hits right-handed on the 40-man roster save for a couple of Rule 5 protections. Non-roster invite Brennan Boesch has started out 13-26 with three homers in spring training which may get him the nod if the Reds are okay with both him and Skip Schumaker hitting left-handed. That may be more of an option since right-handed Kris Negron, who figures to get one of the utility infield jobs also can play in the outfield.
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