GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Reds manager Bryan Price made it very clear that for the Reds to exceed expectations this year, they’re going to need some young starting pitchers to shine.
“We need some step-up performances,” Price said.
He’s talking about Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed and Amir Garrett.
Stephenson and Reed got a chance last season and struggled. Garrett, who has surpassed the other two in the minds of a lot scouts, has yet to pitch in the big leagues. Young pitchers are often given a pass in their first go-around in the majors.
But the Reds have two examples of the pitchers who were good in their first extended time in the rotation: Anthony DeSclafani and Brandon Finnegan. DeSclafani, 26, went 9-5 with a 3.28 ERA last year. Finnegan, 23, went 10-11 with a 3.98.
They are anchors of the rotation with Homer Bailey injured.
DeSclafani and Finnegan are different in personality, and they have different stuff. DeSclafani’s right-handed. Finnegan’s left-handed. But the one thing they share is enormous confidence.
“You can’t really play this game without confidence,” Finnegan said. “It’s definitely tough when you’re not succeeding all the time. But baseball is the type of sport where you’re going to fail. You’ve got to learn how to react to that.”
The Reds had their big pitching meeting Monday. All the coaches participated.
“The one constant with successful pitchers and baseball players is their competitiveness and their expectation of success,” Price said.
“When you go into the arena against the best people in the world playing this game, you’ve got to have the fortitude and confidence to be able to thrive in that environment.
“I truly believe that. If you’re not quite sure, that’s exposed.”
It’s not necessarily an age thing.
Finnegan is one day older than Reed and a couple of months younger than Stephenson. His stuff doesn’t rate as good as theirs. But he’s been successful in the big leagues since shortly after he was drafted in the first round in 2014.
Besides confidence, another thing Finnegan and DeSclafani have in common is they pitched in big-time college programs -- Finnegan at Texas Christian and DeSclafani at Florida. Reed, Stephenson and Garrett were drafted out of high school.
DeSclafani says his time at Florida was invaluable.
“I went through my struggles in college for the most part,” he said. “Learning the importance of throwing strikes and getting ahead of guys. I went through a big part of my failures from high school to college. I learned a lot.
“I didn’t have that level of competition in (New) Jersey. Going down to Florida, going through the struggles, set me up for pro ball.”
DeSclafani was not an A-List prospect when the Reds got him in the Mat Latos trade from Miami. Finnegan bounced between starting and the bullpen with Kansas City before coming over in the Johnny Cueto trade.
“(With Desclafani), there were a lot of people that were talking about not knowing if this guy's a big-league starter or not,” Price said. “He might be a better bullpen fit or setup man. Finnegan, he's drafted to be a left-handed relief pitcher, and no one saw him as a starter. We gave him the opportunity, and he seized it. That's what I want to see from more than DeSclafani or Finnegan.”
The key to doing that is pitching like you did in the minors when you get to the majors.
“Anthony didn’t come to the big leagues apologizing for his lack of anything,” Price said. “He just came in and pitched. He did exactly what he was doing when he was with the Marlins -- aggressive, attacking the strike zone, no fear. That’s one of those elements when you’re looking at a pitcher -- you’re hoping that you can sense that when you’re scouting.
“There’s so many guys with great stuff in baseball that aren’t great pitchers. That missing element of competitiveness and trust are the keys to their success.”
Stephenson, Reed and Garrett fall into the guys-with-great-stuff category.
If one or two of them can get the competitiveness and confidence thing going, it would help the Reds' fortunes. There was no long breaking-in period with Cueto.
“There's nothing wrong with coming up and doing what you did in the minor leagues at the major-league level,” Price said. “No one is telling you you can't do it. That's what I'd like to see, to see some guys come up and take the job. I think what we're doing is having too many guys with question marks because of the limited success that they had when they got their opportunity. I'd like to see more guys come in and just pitch well.
“Every other manager would say exactly what I'm saying right now.”
But every manager doesn’t go into spring training with two rotation spots wide open.