CINCINNATI -- The Reds' front office spent much of the offseason bracing fans for a period of tough times. Instant gratification rarely comes during a rebuilding period.
Now that the season is in progress for the 14-20 Reds, that doesn't mean living through mounting losses is easy. Many have been painful in the late innings after leads were blown by the bullpen.
"I am very encouraged about where we're headed, but I am under no illusions that these sacrifices we've had to make aren't tough on the fan base," Reds general manager Dick Williams told MLB.com.
Present-day struggles haven't altered the big picture thinking.
"The last thing we can do as front office and fans is panic about a small sample size of results under extreme circumstances, like injuries, and lose sight of the ultimate goal and deviate from a well-thought-out plan," Williams said.
Cincinnati's rebuilding plan, according to Williams, has several layers that include trading veteran players with value for young, controllable talent; investing aggressively in the amateur market via the MLB Draft and international signings; an investment in sports science and analytics, and a focus on developing prospects to succeed in the Minor Leagues before promotions.
There is optimism for the future, but that doesn't always alleviate the headaches happening now.
As injuries have piled up, the pitching staff has already used 19 pitchers, including nine starters. Catcher Devin Mesoraco (left shoulder) is out for the season.
While the makeshift rotation has showed some improvement, the bullpen has the highest ERA (6.34) and the most home runs allowed (28) in the Major Leagues and is tied for the lead with 11 losses. It recently set a new record with 23 straight games with at least one run allowed.
Two relievers expected to be dependable -- J.J. Hoover and Jumbo Diaz -- are in Triple-A.
"We knew the bullpen, even at full strength and full health, was going to be a bit of a challenge this year," Williams said. "It's a very dicey area and an unpredictable area to spend a lot of money on. We didn't have any money to spend. You can look at the relievers that signed this offseason for under $2 million. It's a short list."
Amid the struggles is also the question about the future of manager Bryan Price, who is in the final season of his three-year contract. Williams acknowledged Price has worked with a shorthanded roster this season, but he also sidestepped providing clarity on his security.
"I think Bryan is being evaluated on his whole body of work over the course of three seasons," Williams said. "A lot of the manager's job -- day-to-day -- is not necessarily reflected in the win-loss column. There are a lot of things that Bryan is continuing to be evaluated on. Right now, he is totally busy doing what he needs to do day-to-day."
There have been positives, including Brandon Finnegan showing promise as starting pitcher. Tucker Barnhart has stepped up behind the plate in Mesoraco's place, Adam Duvall has seized the vacancy in left field and shortstop Zack Cozart is having an All-Star caliber season less than a year after reconstructive right knee surgery.
"There have been a lot of good individual storylines to take away," Williams said. "If we had not been depleted in the bullpen, I think we would have had a surprisingly good record at this point of the year."
Things are also looking good at Triple-A Louisville, where prospects Jesse Winker and Jose Peraza have averages hovering around .300. Starting pitchers Robert Stephenson and Cody Reed are doing very well. Double-A Pensacola starters Amir Garrett and Rookie Davis have also posted impressive numbers.
"We're really pleased that Louisville and Pensacola have gotten off to great starts," Williams said. "Those players are part of a winning environment and succeeding. But it's important to remember that as well as those guys do this early in the season, it is a small sample size."
Much has been speculated that prospects are not being promoted because of service-time concerns and wanting to delay free agency and arbitration eligibility.
"You'll see guys come up. It's all about development, it really is," Williams said. "People make a lot about the other stuff. These guys, so far, have a fraction of the innings and at-bats of other players that we've seen come up to the big leagues.
"There's nothing wrong with them developing down there while these spots are full up here. There's something to be said for not rushing them."
Sticking to the plan doesn't mean the Reds aren't on the lookout to acquire inexpensive arms. Injured players will also eventually return to the pitching staff.
The first month-plus of the season has only reinforced the commitment to the plan for Williams.
"It shows you how far you have to go to get back," he said. "To play at a championship level consistently, you have to have depth of numbers. You have to build the reinforcements. That isn't something that can be accomplished overnight."