Competition begins for Reds' 5th rotation spot
Six young pitchers among candidates as Spring Training arrives
GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The Reds opened Spring Training on Tuesday with the arrival of pitchers and catchers at camp, and thus formally began one of the more pivotal battles for a job: a spot in Cincinnati's rotation.
Reds manager Bryan Price provided some clarity about who exactly would be prepared as starters during Cactus League games. The top tier of three will be Anthony DeSclafani, Homer Bailey and Luis Castillo.
Left-hander Brandon Finnegan is likely good for a spot, also. Finnegan is coming off of injuries to both of his arms and was limited to four starts in 2017.
"I plug in Finnegan as a guy I'm very confident will make our rotation. But -- I've made this clear -- this is not a Spring Training for anyone, Brandon included, to be thinking they just have to get their arm in shape and be ready to be in our starting rotation," Price said. "This is a competitive group. Lack of competitiveness would not bode well for anybody that wants to be in the starting rotation."
Not everyone from the remaining group of younger starters is in line to get starts this spring.
"There are too many starters in camp to think they all can get regular starts in these games," Price said.
Here is a quick look at those jockeying for a final spot in the Reds' rotation:
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On the inside track:
RHP Sal Romano
Pros: Romano finished strong with a 3.17 ERA over his final eight starts after struggling initially. He's also been developing his slider and bringing along a changeup to go with his mid-90s fastball.
Cons: Romano didn't use his changeup enough, and he will need that third pitch to make the club comfortable that he can be a starter.
What it will take: Romano was a finalist for a spot last spring and just missed. If he brings what he did in his final eight starts of 2017, he should remain one of the favorites.
RHP Robert Stephenson
Pros: Over his final eight starts beginning Aug. 19, Stephenson was 5-2 with a 2.74 ERA. He showed some much-needed mettle in a Sept. 5 game vs. the Brewers, when he loaded the bases with no outs and struck out the next three batters to escape.
Cons: Until late last season, Stephenson was prone to command issues but also struggled to stay mentally strong when under adversity.
What it will take: Stephenson has long been a prospect with promise, and he will have to show he can put the physical and mental tools together and be consistent.
Still has a solid shot:
RHP Tyler Mahle
Pros: Mahle arguably had the best season among pitchers in the entire organization. After a 2.06 ERA in 24 starts combined at Double-A and Triple-A, he showed little trouble adjusting to the Majors in a small sample size. Over four starts, he had a 2.70 ERA.
Cons: Mahle walked 11 batters with 14 strikeouts in 20 big league innings, a departure from the command and control he showed in the Minors. He lacks the experience of the others.
What it will take: Mahle will be battling in camp for the first time and could be a strong option if he maintains his complete mix of the breaking ball and changeup to go with his plus fastball.
RHP Michael Lorenzen
Pros: A key setup reliever the past two seasons, Lorenzen has significant big league experience. He's also a former starter with a mix of pitches besides the fastball.
Cons: Lorenzen struggled mightily in his first go-round as a starter in 2015. He saw his performance dip last year as he went from a 2.93 ERA in the first half to 6.32 in the second half.
What it will take: Lorenzen will have to not only show success as a starter, he will have to hope the club's needs don't require him to return to a setup role in the bullpen. He led the team with 70 appearances last season.
Lefty Amir Garrett and right-hander Jackson Stephens are currently on the periphery. Price said both might get starts this spring but did not commit to a number.
Those who lose out for the Reds' rotation could wind up with a role in the bullpen or working as a starter at Triple-A Louisville and waiting for another chance. Left-hander Cody Reed has already been told he would compete for a spot as a reliever.
"The good thing is we're not saying, 'Hey, it's open tryouts and whoever has the best spring makes the rotation because of injury or ineffectiveness,'" Price said. "That's a much better place to be."