Without Sims, where does Reds' bullpen stand?

March 20th, 2022

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The offseason and recent roster churn have affected every section of the Reds. But no group may have endured more turnover than the club’s bullpen. While there will be holdovers, there will be several new faces no matter how the camp competition pans out.

Perhaps the best bullpen arm Cincinnati has -- right-hander Lucas Sims -- won’t be ready for Opening Day. Sims is not injured but offseason setbacks -- including back spasms and an illness -- prevented him ramping up his throwing program. He also dealt with a right elbow sprain that cost him 39 games last season.

“It was kind of a perfect storm for a little bit of a mess on top of the CBA stuff,” said Sims, who had a 4.40 ERA in 47 appearances last season. “It was a lot like 2020, when you didn’t really know what was going on.”

Sims met with manager David Bell and pitching coach Derek Johnson and the physical therapy group and determined not to push too hard, too fast.

“Lucas is such a big part of our bullpen, we just have to have him healthy all the way. We can’t do anything to risk that,” Bell said.

Sims, who was expected to work the late innings or potentially close games, threw off the mound a couple of days ago.

“We came to an understanding that we need to do the front end of this correct and let’s do a correct buildup,” Sims said. “We can re-assess later but make sure the build-up is done right and then we don’t rush into something and have a big deal. I feel really good now.”

On Wednesday, lefty reliever Amir Garrett was traded to the Royals. During the winter, Michael Lorenzen and Mychal Givens departed as free agents, removing the best late-inning options from the 2021 club.

Here is how the 2022 bullpen could look for Opening Day:

The returning members
RHP Luis Cessa: Acquired at the Trade Deadline last season, Cessa posted a 2.51 ERA in 53 appearances combined for the Reds and Yankees.

RHP Art Warren: Emerged to be a strong option with a 1.29 ERA in 26 games in 2021.

LHP Justin Wilson: Acquired with Cessa from the Yankees, Wilson had a 2.81 ERA in 21 games for the Reds and a 5.29 ERA in 42 games overall.

Familiar faces who could be vital early
With a shortened camp because of the lockout, starting pitchers might not be stretched out to go more than four or five innings in April. Having relievers in the bullpen able to work multiple innings will be important.

Jeff Hoffman was a starter turned reliever last season and will be viewed as a possible bullpen piece this season. Tony Santillan, who started on Sunday vs. the Giants, is a candidate for either the rotation or bullpen. So is lefty Reiver Sanmartin.

These pitchers could back up during games in something akin to tandem starts.

“With Santillan and Hoffman and Sanmartin, we’ll be able to do that more than any year in the past,” Bell said.

Potential new members
A deal hasn’t been announced but former Royals right-hander Kyle Zimmer is in camp, likely as a non-roster invite with a Minor League deal. Zimmer would join several candidates also in camp on Minor League contracts.

“We have a lot of pitchers in particular that have had success,” Bell said. “They had different paths to get to this point. But a lot of guys are maybe one adjustment away.”

Following a breakout year in the Minors, Dauri Moreta made four strong big league appearances in September. Joel Kuhnel is back as a non-roster pitcher after he missed last year with a shoulder injury.

Because of fewer games, relievers’ spring appearances will carry more urgency than normal.

“That is so different from how I usually see it,” Bell said. “It’s a different environment with a lot of different factors. That’s my instincts. I’m realizing we’re in a different time. Just trying to keep that balance.”

The Reds will carry 13 pitchers, with eight relievers -- most likely. There are reports that MLB is considering expanding the normal 26-man roster limit in the early portion of the season to help protect pitchers from injuries after a shortened camp.

Last season, the Reds' bullpen ERA (4.99) was ranked 27th in MLB as the club kept moving veteran arms on and off the roster -- like Heath Hembree, Brad Brach and others.

“I think you have to be open to everyone in camp but also start focusing and making sure we’re focusing on the right group,” Bell said. “A lot of that is based on what we know about them and their track record. Narrowing that down is important to make the best decisions over the next two weeks.”