ATLANTA -- When the Reds optioned Brandon Finnegan to Triple-A Louisville on May 9, they hoped the left-hander would figure things out and return to the big league rotation. Finnegan, who voiced his displeasure about that demotion a few weeks later, hasn't found it in Louisville either.
The organization is now recalibrating the goal. President of baseball operations Dick Williams revealed Tuesday that Finnegan will be moved into Louisville's bullpen for upcoming games.
"This is no punishment, whatsoever. We're just not seeing the performance that we've seen before," Williams said. "At the end of '16, he was an effective starting pitcher. Then because of the time off for injury or whatever, he just hasn't gotten back there. He hasn't recaptured it. We've just got to get him in a role where he can experience some success again."
In seven starts since moving to Louisville, Finnegan is 2-5 with a 7.50 ERA. Over his 36 innings, opponents have seven home runs with a .911 OPS. In his last start against Norfolk on Friday, he surrendered 10 earned runs, nine hits and four walks over 3 1/3 innings.
Finnegan, 25, went 0-3 with a 7.40 ERA in his five starts for the Reds after he began the season on the disabled list with a left biceps strain. In 20 2/3 innings, he gave up 20 runs (17 earned) with 27 hits, 15 walks, 14 strikeouts and five homers.
In 2016, Finnegan pitched 172 innings over 31 starts, but he was limited to four starts in '17 because of injuries to both shoulders.
"We think, based on what we've seen, to get through a lineup he was having to use a lot of changeups," Williams said. "The fastball wasn't playing up quite the way it used to. He had to get real changeup heavy. The control wasn't there. He wasn't turning over the lineups the way he needed to go deep into games as a starter.
"We still think this is a young kid with a lot of talent. But right now, we think his personality may be better suited, [and] his stuff, to get worked out in the 'pen. I also think we value him getting into games more frequently and having that more consistent action as opposed to four days down and one day on. He wasn't getting real comfortable in that role this year."
The Reds acquired Finnegan and fellow lefties Cody Reed and John Lamb from the Royals in the 2015 trade for ace Johnny Cueto. Lamb is now with the Angels and Reed is with Finnegan at Louisville after multiple callups.
A first-round pick of the Royals in the 2014 MLB Draft, Finnegan debuted later that season for Kansas City and was successful out of the bullpen, with a 1.29 ERA in seven appearances. He became the first player to appear in the College World Series and the World Series in the same season. Williams said that Finnegan was on board with the decision to try bullpen work again.
"It came from us, but he was very receptive to it," Williams said. "He's done it before and had success. He's anxious to help the team and experience success again."
Hughes deserving of All-Star nod?
Middle relievers and setup men are becoming more valuable to clubs, but recognition for All-Star Games has been infrequent. Could Reds right-hander Jared Hughes break through after what has been a very strong first half?
"He should. It's tough when guys aren't the closer [and] don't get the attention or recognition that they deserve," catcher Tucker Barnhart said. "Jared has been phenomenal all season. [His ERA] is pretty remarkable for a guy who essentially throws just one pitch. It just shows how good that one pitch is."
Hughes, 32, is 2-2 with a 1.30 ERA that ranks fifth among qualified National League relievers. He also has a 1.056 WHIP in 35 appearances this season, his first with the Reds after he signed a two-year, $4.5 million contract in December.
A sinkerball pitcher, 64.3 percent of the contact against Hughes comes via the ground ball. He has allowed one home run, and from May 4-June 13, he had a career-high streak of 19 1/3 scoreless innings. Hughes is also five for six in save chances.
Last year, submarine-style relief pitcher Pat Neshek broke through for the Phillies to be an All-Star. Setup men like Dellin Betances of the Yankees and Andrew Miller of the Indians have made multiple All-Star Games.
"Of course that's a dream of mine," Hughes said. "It always has been since I was a kid. At the same time, I understand how it works. I think the closers usually have the inside track, and I really think they should, because a lot of those guys are the most elite pitchers in the game. I'm happy to even have anybody bring up my name."
Hughes' value to Cincinnati has come in high-leverage situations. He has a 0.71 ERA when appearing in one-run games and a 0.00 ERA in six games when he has pitched in extra innings.
"He's a competitor willing to pitch in the first inning or the ninth inning," Barnhart said. "It doesn't matter what the situation is. He's unselfish. He's a lot of fun to catch. When I need a guy to throw a ground ball, he's a guy I'd throw out there for sure. He just comes right after guys."