3 things that must happen for Reds to turn it around

May 4th, 2022

This story was excerpted from Mark Sheldon's Reds Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

No matter what the preseason predictions for a club are, almost every team and each player rolls into a brand-new season with optimism and a little extra spring in their step. For the Reds to be off to a historically poor first month of 2022 has been demoralizing for all involved – especially fans.

Can the Reds turn things around? The laws of probability say they almost have to. They had an incredibly difficult April schedule, faced a lot of good pitching and of course, dealt with injuries. But those are excuses no one really wants to hear anymore at this point.

How do they turn things around? Well, that’s a lot more subjective. And I’m sure everybody has an opinion. Since this is my newsletter, here are some things that need to happen.

1. Luis Castillo will have to hit the ground running when he returns

Castillo is scheduled to make his third, and likely final, start of his rehab assignment when he pitches for Triple-A Louisville at Indianapolis on Wednesday. Last season in his first 11 starts, he was 1-8 with a 7.22 ERA before a big turnaround. Castillo had a 2.73 ERA over his final 22 outings. The Reds simply can’t afford for him to start off slow and work his way into a groove.

Having an ace like Castillo back in peak form would stop losing streaks, prevent bullpen overuse and create confidence. It would also help younger pitchers like Hunter Greene, Vladimir Gutierrez and Nick Lodolo to watch him work and feed off of what he does.

2. Joey Votto must turn it around

Votto finished April slashing .129/.291/.143 with one extra-base hit. He had the second-worst average in MLB among qualified hitters. According to Statcast, he barreled only two balls. Over his long career, we’ve seen slow starts from Votto and more often than not, he’s worked his way out of slumps.

Last season, Votto was batting .226 with a .730 OPS in his first 29 games before he suffered a broken thumb. Although he did have five homers by then, he certainly hadn’t taken off yet. He finished 2021 batting .266 with a .938 OPS, 36 homers and 99 RBIs. It has been done and can be done again. But it might have to wait a few days since Votto was placed on the IL on Tuesday.

3. David Bell will have to take some chances

In 2020, as the shortened 60-game season was hanging in the balance, Bell started doing some things that went more by his feel than what analytical data might have told him. He benched a struggling Votto for three games and the slugger came back stronger. Shogo Akiyama was moved to the leadoff spot and led the club in hitting. The Reds ended up making it into the postseason.

On Saturday, in a loss to the Rockies, Bell removed new starting pitcher Connor Overton after 5 1/3 innings -- in part -- because the analytical data often screams the numbers are bad for pitchers facing a lineup for the third time. However, Overton was having a great game with two hits allowed, and no one had reached second base. Bell had reliever Art Warren warming up even before Overton took the mound in the sixth inning and made the switch following a leadoff single and the first out. The decision was basically pre-determined, and Warren had a disastrous four-run rally happen for a 4-3 loss. Bell stood by his decision.

Maybe that’s where the eye test should have overruled analytics. Has Warren been dependable? Of course. If it worked, would anybody question it? No. But Overton showed no obvious signs that danger was coming. That’s maybe where I would have taken a gamble. Showing faith in the starter would’ve boosted him and the team, especially if Overton came through. I’d get making the change if two batters reached that inning, however.

Bell is an experienced baseball guy and many of his gut instincts have been rewarded in the past. This is the time to take some chances and shake things up.