Reds reshuffle 'pen as Hughes departs to Philly

No. 24 prospect Kuhnel gets first big league taste, joins relief corps

August 15th, 2019

CINCINNATI -- After starting the season so well, the Reds' bullpen has faded in the second half. An in-season overhaul of relievers continued Thursday when veteran right-hander Jared Hughes was claimed off waivers by the Phillies. Another right-hander, Sal Romano, was optioned to Triple-A Louisville.

Cincinnati recalled Matt Bowman and selected the contract of right-hander Joel Kuhnel, who is ranked by MLB Pipeline as the organization’s No. 24 prospect. While this is Bowman’s third stint this season with the Reds, Kuhnel is in the big leagues for the first time.

“I didn’t really expect for that kind of stuff to happen,” Kuhnel said. “You get moved up, you keep going and then all of a sudden, you’re here in Cincinnati.

"I’m super excited, super happy about that.”

Kuhnel, 24, was taken in the 11th round by the Reds in the 2016 MLB Draft out of the University of Texas-Arlington. But he wasn’t on anyone’s radars, really, until things came together for him last season, when he became a Florida State League All-Star with Class A Advanced Daytona.

In 41 games this season between Double-A Chattanooga and Louisville, Kuhnel was 5-3 with a 2.18 ERA, with 39 hits, 16 walks, 50 strikeouts and 14 saves totaled over 53 2/3 innings.

“We’ll ease him into it, but we think he has the potential to be a power arm in the back end of the bullpen,” Reds manager David Bell said.

Kuhnel was not in big league camp for the Reds during Spring Training, but he came over on a few occasions to the Reds' Cactus League games as an extra pitcher.

“We knew he had a really good arm,” Bell said. “He’s had a year where he made a lot of progress. I’ve seen him mostly on video [rather] than in person. Great reports from player development. We think he can help us, not only now when we need the fresh arms, but going into the future. He’s a guy that has a power arm, the kind of swing and miss stuff that’s really important in today’s game.”

Kuhnel’s fastball touches triple digits with ease and he mixes in an 89-93 mph slider and a low-90s changeup. His high velocity was gained thanks to a strong conditioning effort.

“Just working on my pitches and developing everything,” Kuhnel said. “You have to keep moving forward and be aggressive with everything.”

Hughes to be missed

Before the 2018 season, the Reds signed Hughes to a two-year, $4.5 million contract with a $3 million club option for 2020 ($250,000 buyout). The deal immediately paid dividends, as Hughes posted a 1.94 ERA in 72 appearances with only four home runs allowed in 78 2/3 innings last season.

Hughes was named Reds pitcher of the year and the Nuxhall Good Guy Award winner by the Cincinnati BBWAA chapter after the season. But he struggled often this season on the mound, and he posted a 4.10 ERA in 47 games with six homers allowed over 48 1/3 innings. His walks per nine innings rate also jumped from 2.6 in ’18 to 3.5 in ’19.

But throughout his time in Cincinnati, Hughes was an undisputed clubhouse leader.

“Jared was as big a part of this team as you could be as far as in the clubhouse and everything he’s done in the bullpen for the culture there,” Bell said. “For our entire team, he will be missed. He’s a great, great person and a great guy. He made us better in a lot of ways. He’ll be missed for all of those reasons.”

The Reds have parted ways with several veteran leaders in the past couple of weeks. Starting pitcher Tanner Roark and second baseman Scooter Gennett were both moved in separate trades on July 31. Reliever David Hernandez was released last week, and lefty Zach Duke was released in July.

Bauer denies tipping pitches

During the Reds' 17-7 loss to the Nationals on Wednesday, starter Trevor Bauer had a sudden downfall, as he gave up a career-high nine earned runs over 4 1/3 innings -- including eight runs in the fifth inning. After the game, Washington outfielder Adam Eaton seemed to imply that Bauer might have been tipping his pitches.

“The other guys throughout the order [were] just bouncing ideas off each other,” said Eaton, who hit a three-run homer off Bauer. “[It was] ‘What are you seeing? How are you seeing it?’ We really wanted to, towards the tail end, kind of wait him out a little bit and make him come to us. He has such good feel of all his pitches. He’ll rush you a little bit, and then he’ll be real methodical with his windup. Just trying to see all his pitches, bouncing ideas off everybody. Having good communication up and down the bench pays dividends.”

Shown the Eaton quote, Bauer denied Thursday that he tipped his pitches.

“Nope,” Bauer said. “That’s all I take from that. It’s patterns, mostly.”