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Michael Lorenzen's sprained elbow and what it means for the Cincinnati Reds rotation

How the righty's elbow issues compound the team's pitching problems.

Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

According to The Enquirer's Zach Buchanan, the MRI that Michael Lorenzen had on his sore elbow yesterday revealed a mild sprain of the UCL and "a little tendonitis."

That's a doctor's way of saying that Lorenzen's elbow isn't great, but could be a lot, lot worse.

The Ulnar Collateral Ligament is a fickle thing, a part of the throwing arm that obviously takes on a pile of wear and tear for MLB pitchers.  It's what gets repaired when players have Tommy John surgery, though that's a complete surgical replacement with a cadaver ligament only in the most extreme cases of tearing.  How severe Lorenzen's UCL issue is remains to be seen - Johnny Cueto had a sore elbow last year and only missed a pair of starts, for instance - but as Buchanan went on to note, it's highly unlikely that Lorenzen will start the Cincinnati Reds season on time given this news and the caution-fueled way he'll be brought along in its wake.

That puts the Reds rotation plans in a bind, one already a bit cramped given the back surgery John Lamb is recovering from, Keyvius Sampson's triceps issue, and Homer Bailey's prolonged recovery from Tommy John surgery.  It means they're left with Anthony DeSclafani as the only pitcher in camp who threw more than 95 big league innings in 2015, and it likely means that Raisel Iglesias - himself dealing with shoulder fatigue that got his Cactus League off to a late start - will be asked to carry an early innings load that's not exactly ideal.  Beyond those two, it makes Brandon Finnegan's spot in the rotation a near lock despite having thrown only 105.1 innings across five different stops in 2015.  Jon Moscot, too, likely has a spot by default given his 2015 performance before shoulder surgery ended his season.

Beyond those four, though, the Reds find themselves in a bit of a pickle.  Both Cody Reed and Robert Stephenson are still in big league camp and have their names all over the Top 100 prospect lists, but ideally the Reds would love to hold back their service clocks to make sure they're under team control for the maximum amount of time.  If you're not privy to MLB service time issues, FanGraphs lays out a very detailed way to look at them, with the primary premise being teams have players under team control for 6 big league seasons (with a season being defined as 172 days on a big league roster).  The saga between Kris Bryant and the Chicago Cubs last year is the most recently highlighted example of how a team can manipulate that number to, in effect, gain a 7th year of team control over players, since keeping Bryant in the minors until April 17th of 2015 means that the Cubs right now still have 6 full years of team control remaining over the superstar 3B, not 5.

The question, really, is whether the team thinks starting the clock on Reed or Stephenson right now is more beneficial to the team in the long run than, say, what they'd provide the team as seasoned, peak performers for the team in 2022.  If putting one or the other in the rotation early enough in April to allow them to accrue a full 172 days of rostered service time is the path the team takes, they'd be on course to be free agents after 2021 instead of 2022, in other words.  That sounds like a far way off, of course, but it's a situation that the Reds recently faced with Mike Leake.  Leake, you'll remember, skipped the minor leagues entirely to open the 2010 season in the big league rotation, and because the Reds didn't choose to bring him along even two weeks slower, he was on course to be a free agent after last year.  Had they chosen to bring him up, say, on April 21st of 2010 instead, the Reds would have had control of him in this 2016 season (should they not have chosen to trade him away anyway).

It's a decision that'll be quite interesting to watch, especially given how cheeky Leake would look eating April innings and keeping service clocks from starting had the team had the chance to keep him around.  Kyle Lohse is still out there on the free agent market should the team pursue that route - hell, Jason Marquis is, too - or the Reds could choose to scoop up a player cut by another MLB team in the coming weeks that wasn't good enough to crack another team's Opening Day roster.  The Tim Melville you watched get shelled by the Los Angeles Angels yesterday is on the table should the team really want to pursue that option, too, though he's not currently on the 40-man roster.

Perhaps this also calls into question the Reds' recent history of attempting to draft relievers and convert them into starting pitchers, since Lorenzen's elbow injury is just the latest speedbump the team has faced in that interesting process.  It's how they chose to develop Tony Cingrani, too, before shoulder issues and durability concerns effectively relegated him to being a reliever during last season.  Similarly, the team reached to draft Nick Howard out of Virginia in the 1st round of the 2014 MLB Draft only to see his 2015 season fall off the face of the planet production-wise before he was shut down with shoulder issues, too.

Whichever way the Reds choose to turn, there are umpteen ramifications.  Hopefully, however, Lorenzen's elbow recovers quickly enough to make kick many of these fears down the road.