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Reds' rotation picture remains mysterious

Unpredictable spring complicates starter projections; Price impressed with Blandino
MLB.com @castrovince

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Reds' rotation picture has had some comings and goings in recent days, from the bummer that was Anthony DeSclafani's oblique injury to the bump in the road that was Brandon Finnegan's biceps strain to the bliss of a newborn baby that has yanked Luis Castillo (proud pop to daughter Brittany) out of camp for a few days.

All of the above have impacted the spring schedule and, ergo, the race to fill out the Reds' rotation. There are more innings available for those trying to stretch out and stick in the season-opening starting five, including Michael Lorenzen, Tyler Mahle, Robert Stephenson, Amir Garrett and Sal Romano. Another name has even entered the mix, with the Reds sliding left-hander Cody Reed into the starting slot for Saturday's game against the Giants.

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SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. -- The Reds' rotation picture has had some comings and goings in recent days, from the bummer that was Anthony DeSclafani's oblique injury to the bump in the road that was Brandon Finnegan's biceps strain to the bliss of a newborn baby that has yanked Luis Castillo (proud pop to daughter Brittany) out of camp for a few days.

All of the above have impacted the spring schedule and, ergo, the race to fill out the Reds' rotation. There are more innings available for those trying to stretch out and stick in the season-opening starting five, including Michael Lorenzen, Tyler Mahle, Robert Stephenson, Amir Garrett and Sal Romano. Another name has even entered the mix, with the Reds sliding left-hander Cody Reed into the starting slot for Saturday's game against the Giants.

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Reed will join Garrett, who starts against the D-backs on Sunday, in getting his first starting nod of the spring. And Romano, just like rotation lock Homer Bailey, will be starting a Minor League game this weekend (Romano on Friday, Bailey on Saturday) on the backfields. Counterintuitive though it may sound, a Minor League start could be an indication that Romano has won a Major League job, but the Reds have not confirmed as much.

In other words, the Reds' rotation outlook is no less complicated today than it was at the start of camp.

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The uncertainty surrounding Finnegan further clouds matters. His injury is not considered serious, but, because he has only been cleared to play catch so far, the calendar might work against him being ready in time for the start of the season.

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"It just depends," manager Bryan Price told reporters. "With the fifth starter, if he went into that position, it would be easier. It would also largely depend on how quickly he's back into game condition."

Things are so up in the air right now that Price prefers not to publicly commit to an Opening Day starter, even if the safe money is on Bailey getting that March 29 assignment vs. the Nats.

"Better safe than sorry, at this point," Price said.

Stephenson, despite coming off a strong second half of 2017, wasn't feeling any safer after his two-inning outing against the D-backs at Salt River Fields on Wednesday. Unable to command his offspeed pitches, Stephenson was tagged for four runs (three earned) on five hits with two walks and two strikeouts in the Reds' 7-3 loss. His frustration with the shaky start underscored the pressure placed upon the young arms as they vie for a job.

"It's a challenge, for sure," said Stephenson, who has a 9.00 ERA through eight innings. "I definitely want to go out there and prove that I belong in that rotation. And I feel that when I'm pitching the way I should, I definitely do. But the way I have lately, I'm not very happy with it."

The Reds' higher-ups would be a lot happier with a stable starting set, but the roster and the spring bear what they bear. And right now, this rotation still has more questions than answers.

Camp battle

Dilson Herrera's designation (working through a shoulder injury, Herrera was outrighted to Triple-A Louisville after clearing waivers on Tuesday) gives a little more clarity to the Reds' infield depth picture. Veteran Cliff Pennington, who is in camp on a Minor League deal, looks to have a very strong chance of cracking the roster, where he'd serve as a backup at shortstop, second and third.

Price, though, is as non-committal with the position player side of the roster as he is with the pitching staff.

"We're going to really let this thing go a lot further," he said. "I think it's just going to go down to the wire, trying to define our best 25-man roster. There's a lot of baseball left to be played."

Price has been impressed with 25-year-old Alex Blandino, who re-asserted himself on the radar with a solid season at Double-A and Triple-A last year and, an 0-for-2 on Wednesday aside, has backed that up with a nice camp. The question is whether the Reds would want him on the big league bench or getting valuable everyday opportunities down below.

"I think last year was a big year for him," Price said. "He was able to produce and get himself on the roster and get the opportunity to come to camp and get playing time with the regulars. He's moved around well, been instinctive on the bases, he's solid defensively, and he's swung the bat. I think he's a guy we can do a lot of things with."

Up next

Next up in the rotation battle merry-go-round is Mahle, who will get the starting nod Thursday in a 4:05 p.m. ET "road" date with the Indians at Goodyear Ballpark. Mike Clevinger will start for the Tribe. The Reds also have left-handers Kyle Crockett, Oliver Perez and Wandy Peralta and right-handers Austin Brice and David Hernandez scheduled to throw. The game can be heard on Gameday Audio and on an exclusive Reds audio webcast.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns, listen to his podcasts and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.

Cincinnati Reds, Robert Stephenson