CINCINNATI -- The move came after a win. I think it always resonates a bit more when it comes after a win.
The Reds beat the Pittsburgh Pirates 7-2 Tuesday. On Wednesday, Cody Reed was demoted to Triple-A Louisville. Reed pitched two innings in the Tuesday game and gave up two runs.
A bad outing does not get you demoted. A bad outing in which you walk four does get you demoted.
Reds manager Bryan Price explained the demotion thusly: "The one message we want to send to everybody in our organization is you have to be able to throw strikes. That’s the No. 1 prerequisite to coming to the major leagues. You have to be able to throw strikes. He can. He struggled. I don't know if it's pitching out of the bullpen. I don't know what it is, specifically, that's allowed him to struggle a bit with his command this year compared to what we see in spring training a year ago and again this spring.”
Reed was the one who got demoted. But the message was for Robert Stephenson, Rookie Davis and whomever else has aspirations of pitching for the Reds this year.
Price rarely rips players to the media. But he’s been more pointed in his comments this year. The guy is working on a one-year contract. He knows that there has to be marked improvement for him to be back in 2018.
When the TV feed cuts to him in the dugout when a pitcher is throwing ball after ball, you can practically see the steam coming out of his ears.
There’s a fine line between being patient with the young players and coddling them.
In the seance with the media before the game in which Reed walked four, one of the reporters asked about Stephenson. He couched the question about Stephenson’s struggles by suggesting maybe the former No. 1 prospect was having difficulty adjusting to the bullpen.
Price was having none of that.
"The thing I don't want to do is start setting up reasons why guys struggle," he said. "We already understand these guys are young and inexperienced. OK, that is a factor. However, it doesn't mean you have to struggle. That's been my point. It's not to discredit anyone here, but I don't want to start setting up reasons why guys struggle. The right thing to do is say we've brought this group here, and the young guys that are here we brought here because we believe they can pitch here and compete here. We're still confident in that. They also have to do it.”
Stephenson’s next outing was Saturday. He pitched three scoreless innings to earn his first professional save. Most notably he walked one and struck out two.
The throw-strikes edict seems to have sunk in.
The fact that the Reds are tied for first and two games over .500 as I type does not mean they are suddenly contenders. But Price’s words and the transactions tell me they’re not going to give these young pitchers 612 feet of rope. Tim Adleman and Bronson Arroyo are in the rotation, even though their stuff isn’t close to Reed’s and Stephenson’s.
But if you’re going to beat either, you’re going to have to do it by swinging the bat. Arroyo’s walked 10 in 30 1/3 innings. Adleman’s walked four in 21 1/3 innings.
Stephenson’s walked 13 in 16 innings. Reed’s walked 15 in 14 innings. Davis has walked 10 in 14 2/3 innings.
The one young starter who’s had sustained success this year is Amir Garrett. He’s walked 14 in 36 innings.
Garrett found himself headed to Louisville, too, but Price said that was done to limit the rookie's innings. The Reds have two days off in the next eight and that allows them to skip starter next week, he said. The club may also want to keep Garrett's major-league clock from starting too soon.
The landscape for the Reds has changed over the first five weeks of the season. The bullpen, the lineup and the bench are good enough to compete right now.
Going into Sunday, the Reds were second in the National League in runs (5.3 a game, up nearly a run from last year) and second in on-base plus slugging (.800). They’re third in bullpen ERA (3.12) and first in batting average against (.190).
That’s how you play above .500 with horrible starting pitching (an NL-worst 5.52).
The Reds are still very much in the rebuild mode, and no one knows how long the good times will last.
But Price’s words, and the actions of the front office, put the young pitchers on notice: Throw strikes or we’ll find someone who will.
If you’re a Reds fan, you’ve got to like that.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.