Notes: Balancing arms; Sims steps up

August 12th, 2020

CINCINNATI -- The Reds have a great rotation this season, but amid the alarming number of arm injuries to pitchers around the league, manager David Bell and pitching coach Derek Johnson are trying to thread one thin needle in 2020.

It's been a difficult task to keep the starters healthy by not letting them go too long in a game while relying on a bullpen that hasn’t done a good job over the first two weeks of the season. A 3 1/2-month shutdown for the pandemic and a quick three-week ramp-up of Summer Camp have also created some variables.

“All I know is that I’m looking at [MLB] Trade Rumors every night, and I’m seeing another guy go down,” Johnson said on Wednesday. “What I know is that we’re kind of a quarter through our season, or whatever it is, and it seems pretty alarming to me how many guys are getting hurt.”

Some pitchers had access to mounds and workout facilities during the shutdown. Some could face hitters, and others were forced to improvise -- or DIY -- their preparation while staying at home.

“This is different than a normal season,” Johnson said. “We’re not just going to go out and roll someone 110 [pitches] because he’s pitching well right off the bat, because I think from our standpoint, we have to look at now. But we also have to look at the future. We can’t get these guys hurt and then be out two years. That would really screw some things up, I think.”

Cincinnati's starters entered Wednesday first in the National League and second in the Major Leagues with a combined 2.51 ERA. The bullpen was second worst in the Majors with a 7.52 ERA.

Bell and Johnson are trying to stabilize the bullpen. has struggled mightily. and Robert Stephenson are injured. Closer began shaky but seems to have righted himself.

“I think the first thing that you do is not panic,” Johnson said. “Normal years, you get six weeks of Spring Training, you’re built up, you can go through these little bad situations or bad parts of an early season and then you get into a season and it kind of normalizes. This was three weeks and we felt actually pretty good about our bullpen coming out of the three weeks. Then the games hit, and things change. For me, it’s not panicking. For me, it’s just addressing it as it comes, trying to go individually guy by guy, and see what or how we can do things to help them.”

Sims ready for more
As Bell has searched for relievers to step up, he recently indicated that long reliever could be given more high-leverage situations to work. A big one came Tuesday when Sims was called on to pitch the top of the 10th inning, the first extra-innings game of the season for Cincinnati and the first experience with the new rule that places an automatic runner on second base to begin each extra frame.

“Honestly, it's something I've been preparing for mentally,” said Sims, who has a 1.08 ERA through eight appearances this season. “It's kind of something that, quite honestly, I've been thinking about, I've been trying to learn from my previous outings -- what I've done well, and, you know, what are some things I can improve on. I was ready for it. I wanted the ball right there. I wanted to get us back in the dugout and give us some momentum. And we were able to come through there in the 10th.”

Roster move
To make room for lefty pitcher to be activated from the 10-day injured list and start Wednesday’s game, the Reds optioned reliever to the alternate training site. Kuhnel made one appearance, on Sunday at Milwaukee, and allowed a pair of home runs.

Bell fond of Matheny
For the first time on Tuesday, Bell got to manage against good friend Mike Matheny of the Royals. Bell was on Matheny’s coaching staff with the Cardinals from 2014-17, the last three of those seasons as his bench coach. The two were able to spend time catching up on Wednesday.

“We didn’t talk a whole lot about baseball; more family and personal stuff,” Bell said. “He’s really one of my best friends in the game. We became really close working together. I learned a ton from him. ... His leadership style is something I learned a lot from. He’s also very collaborative. He included me in a lot, which was a great experience.”

During Tuesday’s 6-5 Reds win in 10 innings, Bell was anticipating some of Matheny’s moves with some of his own in the latter portion of the game.

“You feel like you really know someone. It was fun,” Bell said. “He’s had a ton of success in his still-early stages of his managing career.”