CINCINNATI -- Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart did not hesitate in ranking the performance of his starting pitcher -- Brandon Finnegan -- on Wednesday after a 2-0 win over the Phillies at Great American Ball Park."That was the best he's ever been, that I've caught him. It's not even close," Barnhart
CINCINNATI -- Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart did not hesitate in ranking the performance of his starting pitcher -- Brandon Finnegan -- on Wednesday after a 2-0 win over the Phillies at Great American Ball Park.
"That was the best he's ever been, that I've caught him. It's not even close," Barnhart raved. "The complete game he threw in L.A. [on May 23, 2016] was good, but tonight was without question the best he's ever been that I've ever seen."
In his seven innings, Finnegan allowed one hit and one walk with nine strikeouts. As someone who was given the goal to be more efficient, the 23-year-old delivered by throwing 88 pitches.
But it almost wasn't a good night. Besides being his 2017 debut, the game started with a 50-minute rain delay and Finnegan was amped up -- too much. For someone who averaged 92.7 mph on his fastball last season, Statcast™ showed he was reaching 94-96 mph in the first inning. Three of his first five batters drew first-pitch balls, and he threw 25 pitches with a walk and a two-out single.
"It's the first time I've had a rain delay going into a start," Finnegan said. "I kind of didn't know what to do, and I was definitely getting a little anxious in here. Just getting a little jittery."
Finnegan escaped the first inning with a flyout, then went on to retire his final 19 batters in a row.
"The thing was he had to tone it back just a hair to be able to be on time with his mechanics and get out in front and start nailing those fastball-changeup combinations with a few sliders," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "It was very effective. I was really pleased to see it. It was a game that was setting up after an inning that this could be a short start, and then ended up pitching seven scoreless."
Last season, according to Statcast™, Finnegan threw his changeup 12 percent of the time, but he used it well with a .093 batting average against. On Wednesday, he used it 18 percent (16 changeups) and recorded 12 strikes with five outs -- two on the ground, two in the air and one strikeout.
It was the same changeup grip that former Reds starter Dan Straily taught Finnegan last season.
"I'm just gripping and ripping it, really," Finnegan said. "Everything else is history."
Added Barnhart: "For the most part last year, he was a fastball-slider guy. Occasionally, he mixed in an inconsistent changeup. Tonight, we threw more changeups than sliders. I think when he can command a changeup like that with as good as his fastball is, that's the kind of pitcher he is -- seven strong innings and nine punchies. That's pretty damn good."
The offspeed pitch made Finnegan's fastball even stronger. After he settled in, he averaged 93.7 mph for the game and hit 96 again in the seventh when he retired leadoff batter Maikel Franco with a groundout to first base.
Finnegan hoped he could keep his fastball octane high.
"Last season, I was still tired from 2015. I was going from starting to relieving every other week. That definitely takes a toll on your arm," Finnegan said. "My arm's feeling better than it has the last year and a half. I hope that sticks around. I've just got to stay in the training room and keep doing my shoulder work and keep doing my forearm work, and hopefully we can keep this thing going."
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.