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Reds' rebuilding hinges on success of rotation

Pitching has 'taken a step back the last two years,' Price says

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The progress of the Cincinnati Reds' rebuilding will be measured by these three words:

Pitching, pitching, pitching.

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The progress of the Cincinnati Reds' rebuilding will be measured by these three words:

Pitching, pitching, pitching.

The everyday lineup that the Reds put on the field does not say "rebuilding." It says something much better, with Joey Votto, Jay Bruce, Brandon Phillips, Devin Mesoraco, Billy Hamilton and Zack Cozart. This won't be the issue.

Reds Spring Training info

The pitching is entirely another question and the Reds aren't kidding themselves about it.

"When you look at the two previous years when we really struggled -- the second half of 2014 and most of 2015 -- as much as we might say there were periods of time when we struggled offensively, the pitching has really been something that has taken a step back the last two years," Reds manager Bryan Price said Sunday.

"A lot of that has been because we've had a hard time staying healthy. It hurts to lose Homer Bailey for the bulk of two years. And we lost [Mat] Latos for much of 2014. And then we traded away some guys for August and September, so we didn't have [Mike] Leake and [Johnny] Cueto.

"For us to be competitive, we have to get back on top of the pitching. The lineup, there are things like who is going to play left field, who is going to be on the bench, we're going to get those things solved. From a pitching standpoint, we have to get healthy, we have to define roles. We have to have performance, better performance than where we're coming from. We need to have guys either step up and figure out how to be successful at this level, or get guys who are fresh faces."

The Reds set franchise records last season when nine rookie pitchers made 110 starts, and they're still sorting through health issues on the pitching staff. Bailey is expected to return in May from Tommy John surgery. Michael Lorenzen, a rotation candidate, is out with a sprained ulnar collateral ligament and tendinitis. Another rotation possibility, John Lamb, is recovering from back surgery and is expected back in late April.

The Reds appear to have done very well in the trade with the Royals last July for Johnny Cueto, getting back three legitimate left-handed pitching prospects -- Lamb, Cody Reed and Brandon Finnegan. Reed gave up no runs in his first three Cactus League starts this spring.

Video: Top Prospects: Cody Reed, LHP, Reds

Finnegan, who will be 23 in April, is the only pitcher to have appeared in the NCAA College World Series and the MLB World Series in the same year, which was 2014.

He started Sunday at Goodyear Ballpark against the D-backs, and had a completely forgettable outing, giving up six runs in one inning in what became a 9-3 loss. And forgetting this start is exactly what Finnegan planned to do.

"You have to," Finnegan said. "You have to get on to the next one. Come back [Monday] and start getting ready for the next start."

Finnegan definitely was not devastated by this outing. "It was one of those days, when I didn't have anything, just like when a hitter goes 0-for-4," he said.

Video: ARI@CIN: Finnegan discusses his rocky spring outing

Nobody on the Cincinnati side liked these results but the Reds like Finnegan's intangibles.

"I like him because he's confident," Price said. "You don't have to talk him into believing in himself.

"He has a lot of confidence in his ability. He's willing to challenge hitters in the strike zone. He's got an improving changeup, which he threw more often in his last outing and it was a difference-maker for him. I think the easiest thing in the deal would have been to just leave him in the bullpen. But I think with the third pitch, the changeup, he deserves every opportunity to pitch as a starting pitcher. With the three pitches, I think he has the ability to succeed as a starter.

"He's comfortable in any environment in which you put him. He isn't overwhelmed at all by being in the Major Leagues. I think he really believes in himself and that's really more than half the battle, I think.

"Today, he just wasn't sharp, and he didn't have his best stuff. He didn't get into utilizing his changeup until quite a bit of the damage was done. Part of his inevitable, eventual success at this level will revolve in large part around the ability to utilize and get some good production out of the changeup."

Sunday afternoon aside, Price, who spent 15 seasons as a Major league pitching coach, remains committed to the progress of the Reds' pitching:

"I'm really excited as our guys develop in our system, what we're going to be able to see and be able to accomplish," Price said.

For the Reds rebuilding to work, the pitching will inevitably have to succeed.

Mike Bauman is a national columnist for

Cincinnati Reds