Spiers shows resilience in first start of 2024

June 18th, 2024

PITTSBURGH -- In his first start and sixth outing of 2024 on Monday night, went inning for inning with touted Pirates prospect Paul Skenes. And though a rocky beginning to his evening led to a 4-1 Reds loss to the Pirates at PNC Park, the way the right-hander finished strong is a clear indication of how much he’s grown since his debut last season.

Spiers ended his outing with a career-high 104 pitches (74 strikes), but things nearly spiraled out of control in the first inning. He issued a four-pitch walk to the first batter he faced, and he wasn’t able to fire a strike until Bryan Reynolds stung a center-cut 2-0 sinker for a ground-rule double to left-center field.

Oneil Cruz singled in the next at-bat to plate both, and suddenly the run Spencer Steer drove in during the top of the first inning against Skenes -- the first run the rookie had allowed in the first inning this season -- was effectively erased.

Of Spiers’ first 11 pitches on the night, nine were either four-seamers or sinkers. For many pitchers, getting the fastball in the zone helps them to establish the zone to kickstart their outing. But for Spiers, “throwing hard,” as he calls it, isn’t what his plan of attack should be.

“My game is kind of mixing and matching,” Spiers said. “Obviously, the first hitter, I couldn’t throw a strike, so we had to get in the zone to start the game off. But even after that, I felt like that was too hard -- everything was just fastballs or two-seams early.”

Pitching coach Derek Johnson trotted out to the mound after Spiers allowed the crucial hit to Cruz. He saw it, too, and from that point on, Spiers began to weave all of his offerings throughout the rest of his start.

In fact, to finish the first inning with only one more run allowed, he threw more sweepers (eight) than he did four-seamers and sinkers combined (six).

“It got me back in the zone,” Spiers said. “And after that, everything takes care of itself.”

Back-to-back two-out doubles in the second inning led to the only other run on Spiers’ line for the night, and only three more batters reached base against him, including one on a fielding error, from the third through the sixth innings.

“To get through six innings -- and he held us right there and gave us a shot to win the game -- that’s impressive any time, but especially when the game starts out like that the first couple of hitters,” said Reds manager David Bell.

One standout contributor to Spiers being able to get through six innings was an amazing catch by center fielder TJ Friedl in the fifth. Nick Gonzales ripped a ball just left of center, and Friedl was shaded to the right portion of his post. But he sprinted and laid out to make a four-star catch with a 50 percent catch probability per Statcast, though he exited the game afterwards with right hamstring tightness.

“That’s one of the best plays I’ve seen,” Spiers said. “Full extension. He gives it all. TJ is one of the best outfielders I’ve seen. He gives it everything he’s got, but especially that play was unreal.”

Had that ball landed, it would have meant a runner in scoring position with one out in the fifth and potentially a long inning that would have affected Bell’s decision to have Spiers pitch the sixth. Instead, Spiers left with a strong ending, knowing he battled until his final pitch.

“He knew we needed that start out of him, and he gave us everything he had,” Friedl said. “That’s all we can ever ask for.”

The Reds began to use Spiers in the bullpen more often than not last season, when 20 of his 29 appearances in the Minors and two of his four in the Majors were in relief. But in his eight starts across nine appearances at Triple-A this season and on Monday night, the 26-year-old reminded Cincinnati that he can be trusted in the rotation when it needs him.

But Spiers didn’t feel as if he had anything to prove to himself or the team about where he should be pitching from. He’s just happy to contribute.

“I’ve said it before: I truly don’t care what the role is,” Spiers said. “I want to help the team win. So personally, I wasn’t out there to prove anything to myself. I just wanted to give our ballclub a chance to win.”