Anthony DeSclafani tossed some good baseball on Saturday afternoon, but he apparently did so with a sore oblique. He got an MRI afterwards and was subsequently shut down. There is yet no timetable for his recovery, but oblique injuries have a concerning history of lingering. He experienced a similar injury in 2016 that forced him to start the season on the DL and limited him to 120 innings. Suffice to say Disco ain’t throwin’ on Opening Day.
Which sucks some fat round honky apples, because the Reds were likely counting on him to make that honorable start and serve as a top-of-the-rotation anchor just as they have for the last two (mostly lost) seasons. Now you have to hope even harder that Luis Castillo is the real thing and can stay healthy.
Fortunately, the Reds do not lack for interesting alternatives. Their pitching has been just about the worst in the league for a few years now, but they do have a number of young, talented, but unproven pitchers than can step in (that’s kinda by design, of course).
The plan was to use Spring Training as an audition for the fifth spot in the rotation, behind Disco, La Piedra, Homer Bailey, and Brandon Finnegan (who gave us an injury scare of his own yesterday). But now with two spots open, that audition looks a bit different.
Coming into camp, Bryan Price named Sal Romano, Robert Stephenson, Tyler Mahle, and Michael Lorenzen as the front-runners for that fifth spot. A lot has happened over the last few weeks though (good writing, Scrabbs!), so let’s see how that picture looks as of today.
Most Likely Not Gonna Happen
Tyler Mahle and Michael Lorenzen. Mahle earned the opportunity to win that fifth spot on the strength of an amazing 2017 season. He pitched to an outstanding 2.06 ERA across AA and AAA, earning himself the Reds Minor League Pitcher of the Year award (he did win that, right? I feel like I might be misremembering, though) and four starts with the Reds in September. But he has only 14 starts in his career above the AA level, so it is perfectly reasonable to start him in Louisville. He also has a handful of option years, so he doesn’t absolutely have to be in Cincinnati right away. There ain’t a big hurry.
MichaeLo Ultra’s chances at making the rotation always seemed pretty wild to me. He started 21 mostly bad games way back in 2015, but he has established himself as one of the most effective members of the bullpen since then. I think the Reds are giving him this change because he asked for it, which isn’t a bad thing in any respect. He clearly prefers starting to relieving and the Reds aren’t sacrificing anything to give him this opportunity. It is generally good practice to do right by your players. But realistically, if he was gonna win a spot in the rotation he was going to have to burn off some peoples’ faces this spring. Unfortunately, he has been the least effective of this group so far. But nbd he’ll go back to the ‘pen and continue being pretty good at it.
A Big ol’ Probably
Robert Stephenson. Late last summer it sure looked like he started putting it all together. Over his last ten games (nine of ‘em starts), he posted a strong 2.50 ERA and struck out a batter per inning. He hasn’t been incredibly sharp this spring (he has given up five runs in six innings), but if he has really earned his spot, he earned it based on his strong end of the season last year. And that matters more than spring stats.
Pretty Much Guaranteed
Sal Romano. He ended last season just as strongly as Stephenson did, but he has followed that up with some strong throwin’ so far this spring. He was probably the favorite when there was just one spot available, but now with two I think he probably has one of ‘em in the bag.
Makin’ Some Noise
Amir Garrett. Boy, did he really stink last year. He posted a 7.39 ERA and Bryan Price hardly mentioned his name when Spring Training began. Turns out, he had a bad hip most of the year, so he’ll tell you that’s why he was so bad. This spring he has been the best pitcher in camp. He has struck out 11 and given up only two runs over seven innings. And by some accounts, he has looked even better than the numbers would suggest.
If everything went according to plan, I think Garrett would start the season in Louisville’s rotation regardless of how strong he looked in Arizona. But now, I think he might be the greatest benefactor of Disco’s injury. With that extra spot open I don’t think the Reds can overlook him. He has one more option year left due to his erstwhile basketball career and the complications it caused in his first years in baseball, so they can still stash him in AAA if necessary. The way he has looked though, I don’t think it will be.