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Reds in position to handle rotation injuries

Club has Bailey, stash of young arms to rely on
MLB.com @castrovince

TEMPE, Ariz. -- Were there some thought that the Reds were "due" to get through a Spring Training camp unscathed on the starting-pitching injury front, well, a hard lesson to the contrary has arrived this week.

Anthony DeSclafani's ongoing, uphill climb to get back to the big league rotation through much injury adversity has hit another snag with the left oblique injury that will cost him an Opening Day roster spot. And while Brandon Finnegan's biceps strain appears to be a matter that will cost him days, as opposed to weeks, it was, at the least, another unnerving development for a team and a fan base that has been frustrated by the pitching attrition rate in recent years.

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TEMPE, Ariz. -- Were there some thought that the Reds were "due" to get through a Spring Training camp unscathed on the starting-pitching injury front, well, a hard lesson to the contrary has arrived this week.

Anthony DeSclafani's ongoing, uphill climb to get back to the big league rotation through much injury adversity has hit another snag with the left oblique injury that will cost him an Opening Day roster spot. And while Brandon Finnegan's biceps strain appears to be a matter that will cost him days, as opposed to weeks, it was, at the least, another unnerving development for a team and a fan base that has been frustrated by the pitching attrition rate in recent years.

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• Finnegan has biceps strain, feels 'good to go'

But while the Reds don't want to dip too deep into their backup plans in 2018, they do feel far better-positioned to handle disappointment like the latest "Disco" development this year than they did last, and they do not appear inclined to pluck a starter from the pool of still-available free-agent arms.

:: Spring Training coverage presented by Camping World ::

For one, the Reds are holding out hope that the longest-tenured Red and veteran of three elbow surgeries, Homer Bailey, has a bounceback season in him after a spring set in preparation mode, rather than rehab mode. Bailey's preparation continued with his start in Monday's 4-3 loss to the Angels at Tempe Diablo Stadium.

Just as importantly, the Reds have a stash of young arms with past Major League experience to draw from.

"Last year, we were using guys who not only hadn't been in the big league environment, they really hadn't been in the Triple-A environment, either," general manager Dick Williams said. "I looked it up the other day, and there were six of them and they had 200 innings combined at Triple-A when they debuted. So we were really accelerating their development."

The Reds used 16 starters in 2017 -- a National League-high and second only to the Mariners (17) in the Majors. Their starters accounted for just 57.3 percent of their total innings pitched -- a Major League-low that was definitely not by design, even in this increasingly bullpen-oriented age. As a matter of fact, the 2,582 2/3 innings the Reds have received from their starters over the last three seasons is also a Major League-low, and it is a reflection of the run of injuries that have knocked Bailey's career off course and slowed the development of DeSclafani, Finnegan and others.

Video: SEA@CIN: Romano K's seven over four scoreless innings

"There's nothing more important than getting starting innings," Williams said. "You can carve it up any different way you want, but the last few years we've been really challenged to get quality innings out of our starting pitching. I just really want these guys to be healthy and have the opportunity to show us what we can do and take some of the pressure off the bullpen."

Bailey's 6.43 ERA in 18 starts last season -- after making a combined eight starts over 2015-16 -- is evidence that he's still working to put himself back together, as is a spring ERA that stands at 9.00 after Monday's uneven outing (four runs on six hits with a walk and two strikeouts in four innings).

But if Bailey can sharpen his command, get more of the swing-and-miss he got with his splitter last season and, yes, stay healthy, perhaps this will be the year he finally gets back toward 200-inning territory.

"To see certain guys go down is not something you want to see," Bailey said. "Fortunately we do have depth, even though that depth is a lot of inexperience. You just have to see how it plays out. Hopefully we don't have any more injuries and we can start the season on a healthy note."

DeSclafani's absence, which does not yet include a timetable for his return, will leave Bailey and Finnegan as the only guaranteed Opening Day rotation members with so much as 100 innings pitched at the big league level -- assuming, of course, that Finnegan's biceps issue doesn't become more serious. The Reds, though, are confident enough in the potential of Luis Castillo based off his stuff and 2017 sample (3.12 ERA, 141 ERA+ in 89 1/3 innings) to assure him a spot.

Video: CIN@SEA: Lorenzen on spring outing against Mariners

That leaves Michael Lorenzen, Robert Stephenson, Sal Romano, Tyler Mahle and Amir Garrett competing for two spots.

Lorenzen has emerged as an interesting candidate in getting stretched out after two seasons in the big league bullpen. His sharp three innings against the Mariners on Sunday paired with "B" game outing vs. the Rangers have the Reds thinking hard about his role.

And don't read too much into the fact that all four of Garrett's appearances -- including his two scoreless innings of work against the Angels on Monday -- have come in relief. His nine mostly sharp innings of work keep him in the rotation conversation, despite his struggles in the bigs last year (7.39 ERA in 70 2/3 innings).

"He's certainly made a statement and nobody's discounted his opportunity to pitch in the rotation or the bullpen," Williams said. "There are some things that are in flux and will continue to be in flux in the next two weeks. I'm just glad he's pitching well, he's confident and he looks great right now. It's just about giving ourselves as many options as we can."

Romano and Stephenson seemed to turn a corner at the big league level in the second half of last season, giving them a potential leg up in this rotation competition, and Romano, especially, has built off that base with a solid spring performance. But no matter which direction the Reds go with this crop, they'll have the opportunity to go with guys who have already gotten their feet wet in the Majors, and that alone is a stark contrast to last year's outlook.

"Instead of it being really kind of an open question mark," said manager Bryan Price, "I think there's a better understanding and more optimism that if we fall back on a younger rotation this time through, that they'll be able to endure the rigors and the challenges of Major League pitching."

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