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Amir Garrett staying in the bullpen for now isn’t the worst thing

MLB: Cincinnati Reds at Milwaukee Brewers Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Yesterday, fresh-from-the-dry-cleaners Reds’ manager Jim Riggleman talked a bit about the plan for Amir Garrett. Garrett has been one of the very best relief pitchers in all of baseball to date, as he has tossed 9.2 scoreless innings without giving up a run. He has 11 strikeouts against just one walk. He is one of just a handful of pitchers on the Reds’ roster to have any semblance of success so far this year, so naturally Riggs was asked if there was any plan to move Garrett back to the rotation. Here’s his response:

“Back in the day, a lot of guys came to the big leagues and they started in the bullpen. Now, we seem to groom bullpen guys in the Minor Leagues,” Riggleman said. “But this could be a situation where he gets groomed in the big leagues and if the rest of the ballclub works out, then he stays in the bullpen, he’s really taken to it. He likes it. But if he could eventually start, that could be a real plus for us. Hopefully, the progress continues.”

Listen: I have a severe adverse reaction to seeing young, talented left-handed pitchers throw for the Reds and get stuck in the bullpen forever. I get hives on the backs of my hands, my eyebrows start falling out, and I lose the ability to pronounce words with the letter P in them. I don’t really know why this is, but my shrink tells me I’m repressing a lot of sore memories.

So when I first heard the Reds were putting Garrett in the bullpen to begin the season and then again when they said he was gonna remain there for a while, I was bed-ridden for three whole days. Upon my recovery, I was able to reflect a bit on it and I’m not as itchy and topface-bald as I was. So hear me out.

I think Riggleman has a good point in saying that this is how a lot of pitchers used to be developed. It is certainly less common now to see a young, sharp arm start his career in the bullpen and then successfully transition to the starting rotation. The vogue nowadays is for these young arms to come up and start, and then only when they falter do they get relegated to bullpen duty. But none of that really means anything when applied to specific cases. Of course there are always broad trends one way or the other, but they aren’t destiny.

So I’m inclined to believe Riggs when he says this. When you look at it in context, I think there is actually a very good chance that Garrett gets at least one more shot at the rotation (especially if he keeps pitching like this). So let’s context.

Back at the beginning of this decade, the Reds had another very talented and powerful left arm with an interesting backstory. Once he was sent to the bullpen under the rationale of exceptional circumstances, he actually never came back out again. And there go my eyebrows again.

And so it’s really easy to look at Amir Garrett right now and see the strong similarities with the Aroldis Chapman chapter of Reds history. But there are key differences, and those differences make me feel appreciably less violent in this case.

When Chapman was brought up from Louisville, it was late August of 2010. The Reds were in a pennant race, Chapman was still pretty raw, they had a number of good-enough arms in the rotation, and an obvious weakness in the bullpen. The rotation boasted the likes of Bronson Arroyo, Johnny Cueto, Homer Bailey, Mike Leake, Edinson Volquez, and Travis Wood, all of whom were around league-average or even better. The bullpen, on the other hand, was leaning heavily on old men Francisco Cordero and Arthur Rhodes (he was a baaaaad man), and giving meaningful innings to the likes of Jordan Smith and Logan Ondrusek. A fresh power arm like Chapman was exactly what the bullpen needed. He was looking at an upcoming innings cap anyway so there were a number of birds getting got by this one stone. It all made sense.

(Of course, every decision thereafter to keep him in the bullpen was brain-numbingly stupid and aaaaahhhhhhhhh my eyebrows!!!)

I probably don’t need to tell you that the Reds right now are not in the same situation as the Reds back then. There is no pennant race, there is no stability in the rotation, and there is no Bad Man in the bullpen. What the Reds have right now is a bunch of young fellas looking for a shot. The rotation consists of Homer Bailey (now a saddle-chafed old veteran) and Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, Sal Romano, and Brandon Finnegan - all young fellas looking for a shot. To begin the season, all four of those young fellas could make a reasonable argument that they deserved that shot at least as much as Garrett did. I didn’t like putting Garrett in the ‘pen to begin the year, but the decision wasn’t unreasonable.

And honestly, nothing much has changed since then. We are only about five cycles through the rotation. Garrett has been phenomenal out of the ‘pen, but again, it’s just 9.2 innings. At this point in the season, there are a handful of things of which I’m confident: at least one of those young rotation fellas will either spend a few weeks on the disabled list or get his brains so thoroughly beat out of his head that he is banished to the bullpen or Louisville; the Reds will need more than two extra rotation pitchers beyond the current five; and Amir Garrett, barring catastrophic injury or shittiness, will be one of them.

Tangentially, I think the bigger thing about which you should be upset is that Garrett isn’t throwing enough out of the bullpen. The season has been a Hindenburg-meets-DC Universe-movies-level disaster and the two very best pitchers who are actually getting consistent outs are tied for fourth in relief innings pitched (Raisel Iglesias is the other). And Riggleman kinda addresses this, saying he’s looking to get Garrett more and meaningful innings and maybe we’ll see where we go from there kinda thing. But come on. Austin Brice should not be the most-used relief arm right now.