Sims, Mahle primed to back Reds' elite rotation

Duo being groomed for tandem starts as club maximizes depth

July 10th, 2020

CINCINNATI -- Because of the need for depth to supplement the rotation due to potentially shorter starts during a 60-game schedule, the roles of and have suddenly become more magnified.

Manager David Bell acknowledged Tuesday both were being prepared for “piggyback” or tandem starts to assist the back of the rotation -- if needed. The club already has Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, Trevor Bauer, Wade Miley and Anthony DeSclafani as its formidable starting five.

“I don’t know what it’s going to be like,” Mahle said on Friday. “We have a lot of guys in the ‘pen that can fill in for a start or whatever. It’s going to be interesting. We have a ton of depth. We’re kind of set in that aspect.”

Circumstances forced Mahle and Sims to prepare differently during the 3 1/2-month COVID-19 quarantine.

“I think as a staff we all communicated well," Sims said. "It was everybody trying to stay ready, so we didn’t have to get ready. That was a common theme we had."

Sims was in Cincinnati, and he was able to throw at Great American Ball Park once it was allowed. Before that, he, Castillo and bullpen coach Lee Tunnell worked out around town.

“Our lease started in April, so we’ve been up here bouncing around,” Sims said. “I was fortunate enough, I played with the Midland program 10 years ago, so I reached out to my former contacts there. I was able to go throw over there. … We were going to throw bullpens over at Xavier University for a little bit. A couple of high school fields let us over there.”

Catcher Tucker Barnhart remarked that Sims looked to be in midseason form when he caught a bullpen session last month at GABP shortly before Summer Camp opened.

“As much as midseason form as you can possibly be,” Bell said. “I think that will set him up for success the way he approached it. He had a big step last year of being a pretty big part of our bullpen. That experience and his ability and talent, we see him being a big part of our bullpen.”

On the other hand, Mahle was at home in Southern California, and he felt extra precaution was needed since there was a surge in virus cases.

“I stayed home and played it safe,” Mahle said. “I worked out in my garage. I threw across the street. There’s a high school over there and a big park, so I didn’t have to go very far to get my work done. That’s about it. I didn’t do much.”

Mahle did heed advice from Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson, who encouraged pitchers to create equipment in DIY projects.

“I bought a net. When bullpens started, I had a catcher who would come, and I’d throw to him,” Mahle said. “I built in my garage -- I wouldn’t say built -- I screwed things into the wall, pads and stuff for a Plyo wall for the Plyo balls. And stuff for working out, I built a pull-up bar and stuff like that, hooks to put bands up. ... It was actually really fun.”

As he threw two innings of live batting practice to hitters on Tuesday, Mahle’s velocity was strong. He was often at 95 mph but touched 96 and 97.

“I was kind of wondering because I don’t have the same tools at home to work out and stay in shape as I do here or anywhere else,” he said. “I stayed in shape as best I could, so I was wondering once I got onto a mound and a game situation how it was going to be. My velo was up, and I was able to maintain it for two innings. I was pretty happy with that.”

Sims, 26, was 2-1 with a 4.60 ERA in 24 games -- including four starts -- for the Reds in 2019. On May 28 of last season vs. the Pirates, he set career highs with 7 1/3 innings and nine strikeouts during a start. In his 20 relief appearances, the right-hander posted a 3.42 ERA.

During Wednesday’s scrimmage, Sims pitched two innings and appeared effective.

“Obviously, there are always little things you’re trying to improve on,” Sims said. “I’d like to be maybe a little more efficient attacking the zone. [My] breaking ball feels really sharp. I think my changeup has come a long way. I think maybe playing catch with Luis a little bit probably helped that. As you know, [Castillo’s changeup] is unreal. He gave me a couple pointers here and there, so that definitely helped. But I feel good. I feel sharp and ready to get this thing rolling.”

Mahle, 25, was 3-12 with a 5.14 ERA in 25 starts and 129 2/3 innings last season. He allowed 136 hits, including 25 homers, and struck out 129 with 34 walks.

As for his potential to play a role in the outcome of games this season, Mahle is keeping it simple.

“I’ll just think of it as, I’m going in to get outs,” he said. “However many outs they want me to get, that’s what I’m going to shoot for.”