Reds set record with 42nd straight start by rookie
Mark previously held by 1902 Cardinals
CINCINNATI -- On Friday, when Michael Lorenzen faced the Cardinals, the Reds broke a modern Major League Baseball record by using a rookie starting pitcher for the 42nd consecutive game, snapping the mark held for 113 years by the 1902 Cardinals.
Even approaching the record is a century-old rarity. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no team has had a streak of 29 straight rookie starts since the 1910 Indians. With 22 games remaining, and rookies expected to make every remaining start, this could certainly be a record that is never broken.
Going all-rookie pitcher, all-the-time, was not a feat the Reds had any intention of doing when 2015 opened. But the hope is that these opportunities for development will be redeemed sooner than later with success that's on par with previous rotations, like 2012.
During that 97-win season as National League Central champions, all five starting pitchers made it through the year without missing a start. The backbone of the team's success, each of them made at least 30 starts, and four of them surpassed 200 innings.
With the Reds owners of a 58-81 record this season, not counting Friday's suspended game, they can only look forward at this point and try to see what they have.
"The main thing is they're gaining valuable experience and we're getting a chance to evaluate them in a very tough month against teams competing to win our division," Reds general manager Walt Jocketty said. "It's a true test of what we can hopefully see from these guys in the future. You try to develop these guys as much as you can in the Minor Leagues. At some point they have to come up here and get some exposure. For the most part, we've been very pleased."
Eight rookie pitchers have made at least one start, tying the modern franchise record last set in 1908. Including Friday, they have made a team-record 88 starts this season. Five of the pitchers made their Major League debuts this season. The 1998 Marlins, which finished 54-108, hold the Major League record with 124 starts made by a rookie. The last two teams to cross 100 starts were the 2012 Athletics (101 starts) that finished with 94 wins and the 2009 Athletics (116 starts and a 75-87 team record).
Anthony DeSclafani will make his team-leading 28th start for Cincinnati on Saturday, while Raisel Iglesias, Keyvius Sampson, David Holmberg, John Lamb and Lorenzen have each made starts during the streak. In the first half, Jon Moscot made three starts before season-ending left shoulder injury on his non-pitching arm and Josh Smith has also made three starts.
How did the Reds get into this type of situation? As has often been said before, necessity is the mother of invention.
It began before the season started when cost-cutting moves required trading two veterans -- Mat Latos to the Marlins and Alfredo Simon to the Tigers. A third veteran, Homer Bailey, made only two starts after returning from flexor mass surgery rehab in mid-April, only to blow out his elbow and need season-ending Tommy John surgery. One of their low-cost free agent signings in Jason Marquis backfired, and he was released by June.
Coupled with season-ending injuries to key hitters Devin Mesoraco and Zack Cozart in the first half, the Reds' hopes of keeping up with the NL Central leaders like St. Louis, Pittsburgh and the surprising Cubs faded quickly.
By late July, the Reds were sellers at the non-waiver Trade Deadline. Ace Johnny Cueto, a 20-game winner in 2014, was traded to the Royals on July 26 for three pitching prospects. A couple of days following his final start for the Reds on July 28, Mike Leake was dealt to the Giants.
"Once we traded Leake and Cueto, we knew we'd have to fill these innings," Jocketty said.
That made a mostly rookie rotation into an all-rookie rotation just like that. In the 42 games since, the starters have produced a 10-21 record and 5.24 ERA -- which ranks 24th in the Majors during that span.
While there have been some rough outings, trying moments and learning experiences, there have been some positives. DeSclafani leads all NL rookies in innings pitched (163), is third in strikeouts (127). Iglesias is seventh in strikeouts (99) and recently became the first Major League rookie since Hideo Nomo in 1995 to record double-digit strikeouts in three-straight starts. Iglesias is also third in WHIP (1.09) and first in opponents' batting average (.215).
Lamb, who was part of the Cueto trade, earned his first big league win on Thursday in his sixth try and has had several bright moments already. Lorenzen has been inconsistent, but has also made a good impression at times.
"It's very difficult and challenging for our group of veteran core players. They're used to winning. I don't think anyone here has been part of a rebuild," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "To look up and not see Cueto or Bailey or Leake is probably challenging. Position players feed off the starting pitcher. That being said, DeSclafani and Iglesias have invigorated us the way they have pitched this year and the way Lamb has pitched and Lorenzen has pitched since being back from Triple-A has been a real boost for us.
"I think it does create some enthusiasm moving forward because guys are competing. We can anticipate that they will only get better."
Looking to 2016, DeSclafani and Iglesias should be locks to make the rotation. If Bailey hasn't returned by Opening Day, the other spots could be wide open with Lamb and Lorenzen competing plus Brandon Finnegan and top pitching prospect Robert Stephenson and Cody Reed in the mix. Finnegan and Reed were also in the Cueto trade.
"We'll see how the rest of the year pans out and how Spring Training goes," Finnegan said.
To Jocketty, it hasn't been too tough watching rookies learn and make mistakes at the big league level.
"Actually, I find it interesting," he said. "You get a chance to see how they act, how they make adjustments and it's all part of the evaluation of development."