Pitching. Again.

Tony_Cingrani

For all the talk about finding more offense, somehow, it always seems to keep coming back to pitching.

If you didn’t know better, you’d swear Cincinnatians debate Left Field more than Israelis debate the Left Bank. From Votto’s misunderstood RBI prowess to the endless worry that the Reds cannot survive Zack Cozart’s flaccid bat, the talk has been offense, offense, offense for longer than one can remember.

In 2011 BC (Before Choo), everything revolved around the Drew Stubbs Strikeout Machine—and since Ryan Ludwick’s disastrous 2013 Opening Day, the subject’s been the inability to find an everyday left fielder who merits batting higher than 8th in the lineup.

Then, Brian Price brought everyone back to earth with the following cryptic remarks:

“The thing is, we’ve got veteran guys like Marquis and Maholm and we don’t want to use them one start,” Price said. “If they’re going to be on our team, the hope is they’re on our team for the entire season if not longer. That’s how we have to look at it. You can back-and-forth a young guy. He can start a game or two, go down the minor leagues or go into the bullpen and help as a long guy. Marquis and Maholm are looking more like long-term, start-to-finish options for us.”

It’s unclear exactly what Price was attempting to communicate. Conclusions have been jumped. Dave Cameron over at Fangraphs concluded the Reds are playing it safe by going with vets over the unknown, and proceeded to use some shaky projections to insist the club was not a contender for the post-season and needs to roll the dice on the unconventional to even have a Tebow’s chance in NFL of be relevant in September.

Whatever Price was getting at, one thing is clear: the Reds don’t have enough proven starting pitching anymore and whining about past-their-prime pitchers like Marquis and Maholm doesn’t change that stark fact.

As in the case of Tony Cingrani, when important decisions are made, there are multiple factors are involved. It’s likely the Reds smartly considered the following:

Effectiveness. Sure, Tony had a 2.90 ERA filling in for Johnny Cueto in 2013, but he was hardly an efficient pitcher. He could barely get through five innings without approaching 100 pitches and was almost exclusively using his fastball (81%) to defeat batters. Had he been able to routinely get through 7 innings, his ERA still would have looked good, but not nearly as dominant.

Injury. With Cingrani, it feels like that old children’s song, “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes.” Already, Tony’s had hip, back and shoulder issues in his young career. This is not a season the team can afford to suffer pitching injuries. Although he appears 100 percent this Spring, letting him start the season slowly in the bullpen is the prudent move.

Innings. He isn’t throwing 200 innings this year. If the Reds are in contention and would like to use him as a starter heading down the stretch, he’s going to have to miss a few starts. Beginning the season in the pen solves that problem, if that’s what they are thinking.

Repertoire. He’s largely a one-pitch hurler at this point. Emphasis on “hurler.” His calling card is getting it up there fast, up in the zone. When he throws it down in the zone, he becomes like any other pitcher with one speed: hittable. At some point, he’s got to develop a wider menu of offerings, preferably something he can reliably get over the plate, which so far, we haven’t seen. Continually citing the example of Randy Johnson doesn’t cut it. Even the Cuban Missile discovered that without that slider, his radar-busting fastball could be had. And speaking of the enigmatic Cuban, sooner or later the Reds have to come to grips with the reality that he will soon be unaffordable. Perhaps Cingrani’s move to the bullpen signals a growing understanding of that reality in the front office.

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It seems highly unlikely that Bryan Price thinks he’s going to get 300 innings out of the reclamation project that is the M&M boys. He’s too smart for that. He’s overseen one of the best pitching staffs the organization has seen in many a year, not to mention a bullpen that was nails until 2014. And in fact, to get his starting lineup set so they can properly divide up the remaining spring innings and prepare for the trip North, the Reds have announced a starting rotation that now moves Maholm to the bullpen, assuming he makes the club.

The Reds are high on Anthony DeSclafani, so it appears he’s the fourth starter for the foreseeable future. While some might like to see Raisel Iglesias stick in the rotation when Bailey returns, the Reds have no idea how many innings they can expect to get out of Iglesias.

That leaves Marquis.

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When you’re used to having Mike Leake as your fifth starter, you get spoiled. Those salad days may be back sooner rather than later, especially if Iglesias or Stephenson turn out to be something special. And with the way the Reds have rebuilt the bullpen this season, with Cingrani, Burke Badenhop and possibly Michael Lorenzen making the team, maybe five innings of Marquis will be enough to keep the Reds in every fifth game until the cavalry comes.

At least it’s better than talking about Left Distal Quad.

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