Reds Blog Roundtable: 6 pitchers for 5 spots

Mark J. Rebilas-US PRESSWIRE

This week's question deals with the big question that the Reds rotation may be facing soon. To the tape:

With Johnny Cueto returning from the DL soon, who gets bumped from the rotation?

Pretty simple, right? Obviously, there was some disagreement here.

BK, Red Reporter: Unfortunately, I think it's Tony Cingrani. Not that he deserves it, because he's pitched well enough to stay and could crack about half the rotations in the big leagues right now. Honestly, this decision doesn't really come down to Cingrani at all. To me, Mike Leake doesn't deserve to be demoted. He's been perfectly fine, and has the track record at the big league level that Cingrani doesn't. Not only that, but if you're sending someone down to AAA, it might as well be a guy who has a chance to get better. This isn't a knock on Cingrani, because he's probably better than Leake right now, but there's no reason to rush him to the majors when you have 5 starters who are doing their jobs. Leake is probably a 4-5 starter and likely will be for the foreseeable future. Cingrani is a 4 right now with potential to be better than that. Why not send Cingrani down to work on his secondary pitches and get better than to send Leake down to continue to do what he's always done. Leake's been basically the same pitcher since when he was at ASU, so I find it hard to believe that a trip to Louisville is going to give him a big leap.

Zeldink, Red Hot Mama: The Reds readjusted their rotation to keep Mat Latos on his regular rest, yet they did nothing to provide any clues about who they'll send down when Johnny Cueto is enabled from the disabled list. Leake would be scheduled for the next game Cueto would be eligible for, but the team could easily have Leake wait a day longer for his start.

Oh, such drama.

That was supposed to be sarcastic because it's not something that interests me. Leake or Cingrani? The answer is that it doesn't matter. Last year's injury free rotation was a fluke. A major league baseball team needs more than five starters over the course of the season, and I'm quite happy to have either Leake or Cingrani toe the rubber when a sixth starter is required.

What interests me is how much a decade can change things. Just 10 years ago, back in 2003, the Reds would've loved to have a situation like they face now. That year, under the dubious guidance of general manager Jim Bowden, the Reds had 17 different pitchers start a game. And they were all terrible. (Except for Jose Acevedo, who had a great 27 innings before he turned back into a crappy Bowden pitcher.)

So unless the Reds figure out how to make a trade through the circuits of time and send back Mike Leake for the 2003 version of Adam Dunn or Austin Kearns--to fix the left field issue, of course--I don't think the decision will matter. Both Leake and Cingrani will be slightly above average pitchers this year.

UncleWeez, Red Reporter: I can't believe I'm saying this, but I think it should be Tony Cingrani. Look, I'm tied for second with most everyone else (behind Cy, of course) on the Cingrani fan-wagon, and he's acquitted himself beyond well in his five starts, but it looks like guys me be starting to sit on that fastball a bit. Tony doesn't seem to be quite comfortable enough with his secondary offerings to keep hitters off balance and off the nasty fastball. Send him down while he's still got the confidence that he can succeed in the bigs, have him work in Louisville with Ted Power on refining those offspeed pitches, and bring him back for either the stretch run or, dare I say it, the playoffs (Votto-willing). Mike Leake hasn't pitched like Spaghetti Hoo-Wee has, but he also hasn't earned a demotion by any stretch of the imagination. In short, Leake's a known quantity, and a solid one at that, but one who doesn't really have much upside. Let Cingrani keep working, adjusting, refining, and ease him up. There's no rush.

Of course, an injury could bring him right back to the majors, but let's hope that doesn't happen...

Chad Dotson, Redleg Nation: I want to say that, even now, it's too soon to make that decision. Wait until the day Cueto is scheduled to return, and make the decision then. It's too close to call right now, and things could change.

Obviously, the final decision will come down to Mike Leake and Tony Cingrani. There are a number of quality arguments in favor of Cingrani. At 2-0 with a 2.89 ERA in five starts, Cingrani has clearly performed better than Leake (2-2, 4.32). Cingrani is also a left-hander, the only lefty in Cincinnati's rotation. He has shown poise beyond his years, and there is no reason to believe that Cingrani isn't ready to be an everyday starter in the big leagues.

And it's almost certain that the Reds will choose to send him down to AAA when Cueto returns. Though Leake is only two years older than Cingrani, he's the "veteran" in this scenario, and I just don't see the Reds giving up on Leake after five quality starts by Cingrani. Yes, this is just my gut feeling, but I feel pretty good about the prediction. Leake will be the guy who stays, and Cingrani will continue to bide his time until he makes the rotation for good in

One thing is certain: when Mike Leake has been the team's sixth-best starter, you have a great rotation, indeed.

Kevin Mitchell is Batman, Red Reporter: When Johnny Cueto is healthy and ready to return to the Reds rotation, Tony Cingrani should get bumped back to AAA. While it’s admittedly a pretty tough call to make to send a kid with a sub 3 ERA, a K/9 of a million, and a minor league track record that’s been backed up by his big league performance back to the minors, it’s the right thing to do from both a baseball perspective and a business perspective.

Cueto will be back soon, yes, but there’s no real certainty as to how durable he’ll be able to be now, much less how durable he’ll be down the stretch. It will already be a lot to ask of him to carry the same weight in 2013 as he did in 2012, and to ask him to anchor a rotation with a rookie on an innings limit is just too much to do. Lest we forget, Cueto, Latos, Bailey, and Leake are all coming off of the season where they set career highs in IP, and if Cingrani was kept in the rotation, it may well tax them and the rest of the bullpen as the year goes on. With a pen as dominant as the current one, that’s the last thing I’d like to see happen. Cingrani, while he’s been great, has struggled with elevated pitch counts (he’s a strikeout pitcher…it happens), and since his career innings high is under 150 (and he was a reliever as recently as 3 years ago), he would likely run into an innings cap late this year that would need to be dealt with anyway. That affects everyone, and I’d rather that not happen.

Also, if he’s held on the 25 man for the rest of the season, he’ll qualify as a Super 2 in a few years, which will escalate his salary a year earlier than if he’s sent back to AAA. That may seem trivial now, but it very well could be a multimillion dollar decision two, three, and four years down the line should he continue to be as successful as he has. That’s a greater-than-zero problem worth considering.

Keeping Leake is also the easy decision, and that’s what Walt and Dusty generally do. It’s not like Cingrani can’t be recalled at some later point in the season if he’s still dominant and one of the starters falters or is injured. They’ll do that, and the margin of difference between Cingrani and Leake right now dictates that they should.

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