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Mahle strengthens case in push for rotation

Reds prospect has 2.75 ERA over 19 2/3 innings this spring
MLB.com @m_sheldon

PEORIA, Ariz. -- Waiting out roster decisions near the end of Spring Training often provides intrigue and surprises, but Reds pitcher Tyler Mahle has done just about all he can to eliminate any doubt whether he belongs in the big league rotation.

In a 3-3 tie in 10 innings vs. the Padres on Tuesday night, Mahle pitched five innings with two earned runs, three hits, one walk and six strikeouts. Over his six spring games, including two starts, the right-hander has a 2.75 ERA with 10 hits, three walks and 15 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings.

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PEORIA, Ariz. -- Waiting out roster decisions near the end of Spring Training often provides intrigue and surprises, but Reds pitcher Tyler Mahle has done just about all he can to eliminate any doubt whether he belongs in the big league rotation.

In a 3-3 tie in 10 innings vs. the Padres on Tuesday night, Mahle pitched five innings with two earned runs, three hits, one walk and six strikeouts. Over his six spring games, including two starts, the right-hander has a 2.75 ERA with 10 hits, three walks and 15 strikeouts in 19 2/3 innings.

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"I try not to think about it too much," Mahle said of waiting to see if he won a roster spot. "They're going to decide whatever they want. For myself, I like to go out and have good outings. It makes my life a lot easier and me a lot happier. I'm not too worried about what they're going to decide."

Along with Sal Romano, Mahle seems to be a leading contender for a rotation spot. Going into camp, there was only one obvious rotation opening. But injuries to Anthony DeSclafani and Brandon Finnegan potentially have opened two more. Amir Garrett is also in the mix, while Robert Stephenson has struggled and Michael Lorenzen was erratic before it was learned he's also injured with a strained right teres major muscle near his shoulder.

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"I'd be lying if I didn't say it'd be nice to have a starting rotation intact of guys we anticipated being there," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "But we've been in this position before. We'll deal with it and hit the ground running with what we have. I think what we do have is good. I like the young guys we have in the rotation, who we'll announce here in the next couple of days."

Things began in shaky fashion for Mahle against San Diego in the bottom of the first inning. It featured a leadoff walk, a balk, two hits and a hit batter with a two-strike slider. The result was two runs scored, but it could have been worse if the Padres hadn't run into a pair of avoidable outs on the bases.

After that, Mahle pitched mostly shutdown baseball. Besides his final four scoreless innings, the right-hander retired 13 of his final 15 batters -- with one reaching on an error. The final seven in a row were retired in order.

"I just made some bad pitches. I kind of settled down but I felt really good the whole time," Mahle said. "We threw more changeups the last four innings. It wasn't mechanical or anything. I was just making bad pitches [the first inning]."

Price liked how Mahle worked through his initial trouble and found a way through the rest of his start.

"That was the only inning he really looked vulnerable," Price said. "He got better with his fastball command, his breaking ball and changeup. His slider got better. He was missing with the slider a lot in the first inning off the corner. He was bringing it back on the plate after the first inning and that was great. You have to be pushed a little bit. He was pushed in the first inning and he rebounded with four beautiful innings to follow."

During most of his pro career, including four big league starts last season, Mahle often has leaned on his four-seam fastball to navigate through games. Before heading into the offseason, Price challenged the 23-year-old to develop his secondary pitches -- namely a slider and changeup.

Mahle heeded the call and did just that.

"My changeup has really been a big factor in all of my starts," Mahle said. "I've been able to take over a game with my changeup and I've never been able to do that before."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast.

Cincinnati Reds, Tyler Mahle