Despite plenty of examples to draw from in recent years, Reds skipper Dusty Baker won't exactly have a foolproof blueprint when it comes to managing Aroldis Chapman's highly anticipated move to the starting rotation this season.
Indeed, one doesn't need to go back any further than last year to see both extremes of the high-risk, high-reward transition.
At the start of the 2012 season, five young relievers -- Chris Sale of the White Sox, Lance Lynn of the Cardinals, Jeff Samardzija of the Cubs, Neftali Feliz of the Rangers and Daniel Bard of the Red Sox -- joined starting rotations. Among them, the results ranged from a Cy Young-contending performance to a demotion to Triple-A to a season-ending injury.
"I think everyone will want to know the plan and a solid, hard number for innings," Reds pitching coach Bryan Price said. "I get it. It's a point of interest. It's a great talking point. It will be a debatable issue. Whatever we choose to do, there's always going to be an opposing side that feels we could do things better. We have to be satisfied with our choices, because our intent will be to get the most out of Aroldis without putting him in a high-risk position."
Luckily for the Reds, the most productive transition last season was made by Sale, whose circumstances most closely resemble those of Chapman.
Sale, like Chapman a hard-throwing lefty, entered the Chicago rotation a season after recording a career-high 71 innings as a reliever. Chapman logged 71 2/3 innings last season.
Sale went 17-8 with a 3.05 ERA in 30 appearances, 29 of them starts, and finished sixth in the voting for the American League Cy Young Award. Along the way, his workload increased by 121 innings from the previous year.
"I think regardless of where people stand on the question, I think the days of hiking a pitcher's innings number by 50 or 60 or 80 innings in today's standards would be considered irresponsible," Price said. "We're going to be very conscientious of that."
"It will be difficult. ... I'm just saying it's not an easy move -- if people think throwing 80 innings a year is any way comparable to taking the ball every fifth day and throwing 200, it's not. It's such a different ballgame that you don't know what you're going to get."
-- Reds right-hander|
Sale's journey didn't come without a bump. He experienced minor discomfort in his elbow in early May, which led to a brief move back to the bullpen and his one relief appearance. Less than a week later, Sale returned to the rotation to stay, going on to pitch 192 innings. He will enter this season as potentially the White Sox top starter.
"He's going to be treated like any other starter," said White Sox general manager Rick Hahn. "Entering Spring Training with Chris, it's not going to be with the same restrictions or quite the same concerns as 2012. He has established himself as a front-end-of-the-rotation starter in the AL and we look forward to seeing where it goes from here."
The Reds hope to be in a similar position at this time next year with Chapman, but even with the utmost precaution, such an increased workload presents a risk to any pitcher's arm.
Consider Feliz, who entered the Rangers' rotation at the age of 23 after recording a combined 72 saves in 134 relief appearances from 2010-11. Feliz initially pitched well, going 3-1 with a 3.16 ERA in seven starts and one relief outing, but he landed on the disabled list with a sprained elbow following a start on May 18.
Two months later, the right-hander experienced discomfort after making three rehab starts and ultimately underwent Tommy John surgery that will keep him out for most, if not all, of this season.
"We don't know the answer," Rangers GM Jon Daniels said at the time it was announced Feliz would have elbow surgery. "He is as strong and as well-conditioned as he's ever been. There weren't any warning signs."
Therein lies the danger with such a move -- by the time a potentially serious injury becomes apparent, it could be too late. While Baker can certainly take extra precautions with Chapman, there's no guaranteed method to avoiding such a worst-case scenario.
"Do you monitor his pitch count? We don't know what his maximum is yet," Baker said. "Do you monitor his innings? Do you do a [Stephen] Strasburg situation where you sit him down the last month of the season? Or he could maybe relieve early or something and [you can] stretch him out."
As for Lynn, Samardzija and Bard, all three were fortunate enough to avoid injuries, but not all of them produced the hoped-for results.
Lynn stormed out of the gate en route to an All-Star Game selection before hitting some bumps in August and bouncing back and forth to the bullpen down the stretch. He made 29 starts, finishing with strong numbers: 18-7 with a 3.78 ERA. He threw 176 innings.
Samardzija became a viable starter, going 9-13 with a 3.81 ERA while pitching 174 2/3 innings. Unlike Lynn, the increased workload didn't seem to bother Samardzija's performance, as his second-half ERA of 2.58 was considerably lower than his first-half mark of 4.71.
The transition was by far the toughest on Bard, who struggled to a 4-6 record with a 5.30 ERA in 10 starts before being demoted to Pawtucket. He never returned to the Red Sox rotation.
These are just some recents examples of what could happen when the Reds make the move with Chapman.
"It will be difficult. It's not an easy move," said Bronson Arroyo, Chapman's teammate and a veteran of 13 big league seasons, most of them as a starter. "He should get a fair shot. It's just my opinion. I'm just saying it's not an easy move -- if people think throwing 80 innings a year is any way comparable to taking the ball every fifth day and throwing 200, it's not.
"It's such a different ballgame that you don't know what you're going to get. I'm not saying he can't do it. I am saying it will be a large change."
Baker is confident Chapman will produce in whichever role he plays, saying he could potentially be his best starter and best reliever. The main concern, one that will linger all summer, will be staying healthy.
"I have no worries about my arm," Chapman said via an interpreter. "Since I've known about this, I've been working and getting prepared to do what I did before. Nothing has changed."