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Finnegan has 'jitters' in long-awaited return

Reds left-hander hadn't seen game action since last June
MLB.com @m_sheldon

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Other than a simulated game on Thursday against teammates, Reds pitcher Brandon Finnegan hadn't toed the rubber in a competitive game since re-injuring a muscle near his left shoulder last June.

That made a two-inning Spring Training start vs. the Indians on Tuesday less mundane and more exciting for Finnegan.

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GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Other than a simulated game on Thursday against teammates, Reds pitcher Brandon Finnegan hadn't toed the rubber in a competitive game since re-injuring a muscle near his left shoulder last June.

That made a two-inning Spring Training start vs. the Indians on Tuesday less mundane and more exciting for Finnegan.

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"I had a lot of jitters," Finnegan said. "I knew I was going to have a lot of adrenaline going into the game. My main focus going in was to stay composed, stay in control of my body and try not to overthrow, just throw strikes and hit my spots. For the most part, I did that."

Finnegan gave up one earned run, two hits and one walk with one strikeout. His first batter of the game, Francisco Lindor, launched a 1-1 changeup to left field for a leadoff home run. But Finnegan wasn't worried.

"Third pitch of the game, what the hell can you do? He's a good hitter," Finnegan said. "He probably knew the changeup was coming, I'm sure. Lately, that's been my out pitch. I left it kind of middle-in and he hammered it. It's the only one I'm upset with today. Other than that, I felt for the most part in control of my body and making somewhat quality pitches."

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Finnegan is trying to return to the Reds' rotation after he was limited to four starts in 2017. First, he strained the left lat and trapezius near his shoulder and was on the disabled list from Apr. 16-June 25. Four innings into his return on June 26 at St. Louis, Finnegan left the game with a similar injury -- a strained teres major muscle.

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Complicating matters was that Finnegan dislocated his right shoulder in July in a slip and fall from a boat and needed surgery. Considered healed from both injuries after the season, he had a normal offseason workload to get ready.

For someone who is turning 25 next month and still a young starter, the time away took away valuable experience.

"It's not easier, but I don't think there's any guarantee it ensures he would struggle," Reds manager Bryan Price said Tuesday morning. "He's not going to forget how to pitch. The key is that he's healthy."

Finnegan had to get whatever experience he could get from watching others last season. Unlike two more seasoned veterans returning from injuries -- Anthony DeSclafani and Homer Bailey -- Price didn't lock Finnegan in as guaranteed to be in the rotation.

Video: PHI@CIN: Finnegan fans nine over seven shutout frames

Although his chances are good, Finnegan has to pitch into the rotation.

"I really appreciate what he did in 2016. I thought he was one of our most consistent starters. But we need to see similar performance from him," Price said. "He has got to be one of our best five starters. I think he has the ability to do that."

Finnegan, who threw 172 innings in 2016 for Cincinnati, wasn't too worried about his left shoulder having issues again.

"It's definitely in the back of your head, but it's why you go to the training room and work with the trainer so much," he said. "You work on getting that scap and lat stronger and I've been doing that every day. If it goes, it's just bad luck."

Finnegan estimated that he spends 30 minutes in the trainer's room before and after each throwing session. As a precaution, the club held him back a little from the rest of the starters and had his first game be a controlled scrimmage.

"We've still got plenty of time," Finnegan said. "Three more outings and I will be at five innings. If I throw Sunday, that's three innings and two more after that and we'll be gone. I'll be ready to go, for sure."

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, Brandon Finnegan