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Reds not ready to name Opening Day starter

'I don't think we can go wrong,' Bell says of decision
@castrovince
March 15, 2019

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- With less than two weeks to go until the season opener (March 28 vs. the Pirates), the Reds have yet to announce their Opening Day starter. If we read anything into the recent pitching schedule and the usual pattern of four days’ rest, then the pitcher best-positioned

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- With less than two weeks to go until the season opener (March 28 vs. the Pirates), the Reds have yet to announce their Opening Day starter. If we read anything into the recent pitching schedule and the usual pattern of four days’ rest, then the pitcher best-positioned to get the start is … drum roll, please … Tyler Mahle, who is likely to take the rotation spot opened by Alex Wood’s recent bout with a back issue.

But the Reds still have some time to manipulate the schedule to their liking. Sonny Gray thus far has only been stretched out to three innings of work in a Cactus League game, so he could technically still make an exhibition start on short rest and get the Opening Day honor. Tanner Roark, who started Friday night’s 8-1 loss to the Dodgers, could have an elongated rest period between starts and be the Opening Day guy. Same goes for Anthony DeSclafani (who starts Saturday against the Rangers) and Luis Castillo (who starts Sunday vs. the Indians).

Asked what goes into selecting the Opening Day starter, manager David Bell said a lot, while revealing little.

“Certainly, what they’ve done up until this year is the obvious factor,” he said. “But maybe an even bigger factor, especially with some of the setbacks we’ve had this spring, is how the schedule works itself out. We understand how it can be a big deal and a big honor, and it should be, especially in Cincinnati. But we have to make the decision based on where they are in their progression. How the calendar works itself out is something we have to look at. We like all of our guys. I don’t think we can go wrong. But it hasn’t been determined yet.”

The Reds’ last two Opening Day starters were Scott Feldman (2017) and Homer Bailey ('18), neither of whom were even with the organization the following year. It’s an honor until it isn’t. What matters most to the Reds is breaking camp with five healthy arms (and Wood, who is expected to resume throwing off a mound early next week, nearing readiness) and then vastly improving on last year’s 5.02 rotation ERA.

Votto sets example for young players

Bell didn’t want to make too big a deal out of it, because, technically, it’s the way you’re supposed to play the game, and it’s the way Joey Votto always plays the game.

But given the circumstances of a “B” game on a back field against a bunch of Minor Leaguers from the Indians, what Votto did Thursday stood out.

In his third of seven at-bats in the game (obviously, the setting was rigged to get him as many at-bats as possible), Votto popped up to third base. He watched the flight of the ball for just a moment, realized it was in fair territory, and bolted to first. When the third baseman lost the ball in the sun, there was Votto, safely at second with the ultra-rare popup double.

C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic was there and caught the play on camera:

News of Votto’s double got to Bell, who was at the big league game in Glendale that afternoon.

“In a game like that, it wouldn’t have gone unnoticed if he didn’t do it,” Bell said. “But instead he does this and there’s kids over there on both teams watching him, and it’s a great example. ... It’s just nice, because there are only a few people that can send that strong of a message. Everyone’s going to be watching them, and he took advantage of it.”

Worth noting

• Robert Stephenson (shoulder) pitched in that aforementioned “B” game and threw 11 of his 15 pitches for strikes in an outing that Bell called a “great sign.” Stephenson is out of options and would have to make the Reds’ roster as a reliever or else be exposed to waivers.

• Yasiel Puig hosted the “66ers” baseball team organized by his Wild Horse Foundation at the Goodyear facility on Friday. The kids got to shag fly balls with Puig and received a tour of the facility. As fate and fun would have it, Votto, who had made a large donation to the foundation, was randomly selected as a winner of a sweepstakes that allowed him to “meet” Puig and get an autographed ball and bat from his new teammate.

• You know the season is getting close when the pitchers start batting in games. That was the case for Friday’s tilt with the Dodgers, as neither team utilized the DH.

Up next

DeSclafani gets the starting nod when the Reds take on Shelby Miller and the Rangers at 4:05 p.m. ET on Saturday at Goodyear Ballpark.

Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.