PHOENIX -- Tuesday marked a huge day for Reds starting pitcher Anthony DeSclafani. He last faced Major League hitters on Sept. 28, 2016, throwing six innings of one-run ball in a 2-1 win over the Cardinals.
Since then, DeSclafani, 27, missed all of 2017 with a strained ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. He threw three games of Minor League ball for a total of 6 2/3 innings in July and August.
So two innings of scoreless Cactus League ball in a 6-3 loss to the Brewers was a long time coming.
"It felt good to be in a big league Spring Training environment and just to throw my pitches and compete," DeSclafani said. "It's definitely been a while. There's a few balls I threw today that I was like, 'Dang, those look like good pitches,' but I guess I'm back with the big league strike zone instead of the instructional league strike zone."
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The right-hander had no trouble finding the strike zone. He struck out two and allowed two hits on a pair of shallow bloops, one barely fair on the line just past third to open the first inning, and another that dropped just out of reach of shortstop Jose Peraza to open the second.
"It warms all of our hearts that he was back on the mound in competition, and it looked like he picked up right where he left off before his elbow got sore," manager Bryan Price said. "The most important pitches in the game are almost always thrown from the stretch position. He got to the stretch after the first hitter each of the two innings he was out there and threw really well from the stretch."
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Before his injury, DeSclafani had two solid seasons with the Reds, following a 13-game call-up with the Marlins in 2014. He went 9-13 with a 4.05 ERA in 2015, leading all National League rookies with 31 starts and 184 2/3 innings. After missing the first two months of 2016 with a strained left oblique, he was even better than his rookie year, posting a 9-5 record with a 3.28 ERA in 20 starts spanning 123 1/3 innings.
"Honestly, I just wanted to be healthy," DeSclafani said of his focus Tuesday. "When I was giving up some of those hits, I was like, 'Dude, you're out here. You're able to throw, you're able to compete. Just work on throwing strikes.'"
The importance of a healthy DiSclafani to the Reds cannot be overstated as they rebuild in 2018.
"When you've got to go with so much youth, especially when you're pushing guys maybe before they're ready, it doesn't lend itself to a lot of winning baseball, unfortunately," Price said. "You've got to have some members of the staff who have been through the rigors to kind of set the tone so the less experienced guys don't have to take on the responsibilities of a more experienced pitcher. Even though Anthony doesn't have a great deal of Major League experience, on this staff, he's one of the seasoned veterans."
Back to short
In 2016, in his first taste of big league baseball, Peraza played the vast majority of his games with the Reds at shortstop. By 2017, he was the Opening Day second baseman, but he remained versatile, playing just over half his games at second (77) while also logging games at shortstop (55) and center field (2).
But along with the starting role at second -- which he eventually lost to Scooter Gennett -- Peraza had difficulty maintaining his hot rookie numbers of .324/.352/.411, falling to .259/.297/.324 in his sophomore season. He stole 23 bases last year, compared to 21 his rookie season, when he played half the games.
"That's what got him in trouble a little bit last year -- the fact that Scooter was performing at a high level, certainly beyond what we ever expected," Price said. "When he got off to not a great start, I'm sure that exacerbated that pressure."
In 2018, Peraza is penciled in as the Opening Day shortstop, following the departure of Zack Cozart, and the Reds are ready to see the third-year player start to come into his own. It's a position of elevated importance, but Price hopes Peraza will feel less pressure after establishing his credentials.
"We're not really looking for a replacement for Cozart, per se," Price said. "However, we acquired Jose because we felt like he had a really high ceiling as a player and as a shortstop, and that position wasn't available for him to play. I think there's a much better player in there than what we saw in the first half [of 2017] from Jose, and we got a glimpse of that the year before.
"As he gets comfortable with the league and the pitchers, we'll see the batting average and on-base go up, and I think we're going to find that he's going to play the position of shortstop very well."
De La Nuez wins scouting honor
The Reds honored West Coast cross checker Rex De La Nuez with the Barton Scout of the Year Award on Tuesday. The honor is bestowed annually upon a Reds amateur scout who exemplifies the spirit of three generations of scouting excellence in the Barton family -- Larry Sr., Larry Jr. and Jeff Barton.
De La Nuez has so far signed six players who have reached the Major Leagues: Jon Moscot, Zach Vincej, Brad Boxberger, Chris Valaika, Josh Ravin and Josh Roenicke. The award was presented to De La Nuez at the Reds Player Development Complex by Larry Barton Jr., Jeff Barton's wife Karen, and their daughters Makenna and Avery.