There always seemed to be a smidgen of a chance that Michael Lorenzen was going to end up in the Opening Day rotation of the Cincinnati Reds. If he came out in Cactus League play striking out six batters an inning, that would’ve both been impossible and perhaps the only thing that could’ve snuck him back into a role as a starting pitcher, but despite the willingness of the Reds to let him compete for a spot, he just always seemed destined to return to his role as an anchor in the bullpen.
That is, of course, until he came down with an injury to his teres major muscle, one of the two on your back that connect to your shoulders - and if you’re buff as heck like Mike - make your back look all cool and trapezoidal and whatnot. It’s the same muscle that initially shut down Brandon Finnegan last year - Finny’s on his left (throwing) arm, Lorenzen’s on his right (throwing) arm - though the initial reports suggest that it’s not as serious a strain as the one that shut down the lefty last year, as MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon relayed from manager Bryan Price. Still, it’s one of those nebulous injury timelines that muscle strains usually leave, meaning there’s absolutely reason to believe that Lorenzen will start the year on the 10-day DL - and may spend more time there than we’d care to imagine at the moment.
That leaves a big, big void in a bullpen that’s already had its tail handed to it on a record pace over the last two years. And how the Reds choose to fill it this April is a big, big question mark.
Despite his second half struggles and overall 4.45 ERA in 2017, Lorenzen was one of the very few Cincinnati relievers to post a positive fWAR, his 0.6 mark in 83.0 IP a beacon among his peers. Over the last two seasons, he’s been good for a combined 113 ERA+ in 133.0 relief innings, good for 1.4 bWAR and 1.0 fWAR in the same stretch in which the team’s bullpen had been as bad as any unit in history. And while the signings of Jared Hughes and David Hernandez were supposed to help drag that unit back to some semblance of respectability, now they’re going to have to simply backfill for Lorenzen until he’s healthy and good to go once again.
Hernandez seems the likeliest to step into the 8th inning role in Lorenzen’s stead for the time being, as he’s fresh off a 2017 season that saw him throw 30 such 8th innings, in which he had a 2.45 ERA, allowed just a .542 OPS, and allowed only 4 extra-base hits in the 113 PA against him. Perhaps more importantly, he struck out 27 against only 6 walks in those scenarios, which is vital in such late-game situations.
How long Lorenzen will be on the shelf is still yet to be determined, but it’s clear that the Reds will have to be quite creative to replace him in the meantime.
In other news, Tyler Mahle again flashed periods of excellence in his start against the San Diego Padres on Tuesday night. Facing a lineup chock full of the Friars’ expected everyday regulars, he allowed 2 ER on 3 H, striking out 6 against a lone walk, finishing his outing with 4 consecutive scoreless innings. Looking purely at Mahle’s minor league numbers, the idea that he’d be a successful big league starter is a pretty easy conclusion to come to, but his work in Cactus League play so far this spring has only augmented those expectations. At this point, I’d be shocked if he’s not in the Opening Day starting rotation, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised for this to be the last time he’s ever in a competition for one of those spots.
Most every projection system dislikes the current Reds roster, as they did last year while most every position player on the field exceeded their projections by wild amounts. So, it’s no surprise that in FanGraphs’ latest Positional Power Rankings, the Reds look woefully understaffed at both 2B and at 3B. (I guess it is worth mentioning that this particular reason was largely behind everyone who wanted to trade Scooter Gennett this offseason after his breakout 2017 campaign.)
Another article from FanGraphs is much more interesting, however. It’s a breakdown of ‘dead money’ that teams are paying in 2018, or rather money teams are paying to players who are now playing on other teams. It’s an interesting look at the particular portion of the trade market that has seen huge contracts swapped in order to help balance books and divert money into other causes, for one, but what’s also interesting is that the Reds aren’t even on the list. They’ve not participated in this particular market often, with the salary paid to Brandon Phillips to play for the Braves and Angels last year the lone real exception. Of course, you could certainly make the argument that the money they’ve been paying to Homer Bailey and Devin Mesoraco the last few years can be chalked up on a very similar ledger and I wouldn’t really argue that point at all.
Finally, former Reds 3rd round pick and former-future-two-time-Cy-Young-Award-winner Zach Stewart has apparently signed on to play some indy ball with the Atlantic League’s New Britain Bees, the team announced. Stewart went with Edwin Encarnacion to the Toronto Blue Jays in the Scott Rolen deal way back when, a deal that’s steeped in Red Reporter lore.