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Combo of young arms, vets fills out rotation

MLB.com @m_sheldon

CINCINNATI -- The fortunes of the Reds' rotation can only go up in 2018 after a dismal '17. But during the Hot Stove season, general manager Dick Williams made no moves to add a starting pitcher to bolster the starting five.

That's because Williams and manager Bryan Price believe the answer to improvement is still located within the organization. They're basing that belief on the performances of some of their young pitchers over the final two months of last season and the track record of veterans returning from injury.

CINCINNATI -- The fortunes of the Reds' rotation can only go up in 2018 after a dismal '17. But during the Hot Stove season, general manager Dick Williams made no moves to add a starting pitcher to bolster the starting five.

That's because Williams and manager Bryan Price believe the answer to improvement is still located within the organization. They're basing that belief on the performances of some of their young pitchers over the final two months of last season and the track record of veterans returning from injury.

Votto leads lineup poised to break out

Injuries in Spring Training tested Cincinnati's rotation depth from the get-go. The club needed 16 different starters, tied for second most in the Majors. The group's 5.55 ERA ranked last in the National League.

MLB.com is taking a look at the projected rotation of all 30 teams ahead of Spring Training. Here's how the Reds might stack up:

ROTATION IF SEASON STARTED TODAY
Anthony DeSclafani, RHP
Homer Bailey, RHP
Brandon Finnegan, LHP
Luis Castillo, RHP
Sal Romano, RHP

STRENGTH
As a rookie who skipped the Triple-A level and went to the Majors, Castillo showed he was a potential ace. Able to throw in the high 90s, the 25-year-old has a solid four-pitch arsenal. He went 3-7 with a 3.12 ERA in 15 big league starts with 32 walks and 98 strikeouts. Romano initially struggled in the big leagues but posted a 3.17 ERA over his final eight starts to put him in good position to win the fifth spot. Robert Stephenson also finished strong, and the club is impressed after a brief look at prospect Tyler Mahle (2.70 ERA in four starts).

Video: Mark Sheldon on Luis Castillo's evolution in 2017

QUESTION MARKS
The three veterans -- DeSclafani, Bailey and Finnegan -- combined for 22 starts in 2017. DeSclafani missed the entire season with an ulnar collateral ligament sprain and also a large chunk of '16 with a left oblique injury. Bailey has endured three elbow surgeries since '14 and compiled a 6.43 ERA in his 18 starts. Finnegan is coming off procedures to the teres major muscle near his left shoulder and his right shoulder after he sustained a fall away from the ballpark.

Video: CIN@MIL: Bailey retires Aguilar to preserve shutout

WHAT MIGHT CHANGE
Plenty could change before Opening Day on March 29 against the Nationals. Attrition because of injury has decimated the rotation the past two years, and it's always something to watch for. While Price has a pretty good idea of who his first four starters will be, the fifth spot will be a tight battle. Romano and Stephenson have the inside track but expect competition from Mahle, Amir Garrett, Cody Reed, Jackson Stephens and reliever Michael Lorenzen, who is being given another shot to start. The Reds' chances to turn the corner from rebuilder to contender largely hinges on the rotation coming together and producing a consistent run of deep starts. Cincinnati's starters combined for 820 innings in 2017, fewest thrown in the Major Leagues.

Video: CIN@STL: Mahle fans four, picks up first MLB win

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Cincinnati Reds, Homer Bailey, Luis Castillo, Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan, Sal Romano