CINCINNATI — Whenever Bryan Price is asked about the future, he always gets around to the same thing:
“We're trying to really build a pitching staff here. I think that's the biggest goal.”
On days like Sunday, it’s hard to see that process ending in any kind of viable rotation for 2018. Not after the nominal ace, the veteran, the guy who you expect to start on Opening Day can’t hold a 3-0 lead for a half inning and ends up going 3 1/3 innings and allowing a career-high 10 runs on 10 hits.
Homer Bailey took the loss in 13-4 debacle against the St. Louis Cardinals.
Just when you see a glimmer of hope for ’18, a huge dose of reality drowns it.
Bailey had been OK recently. Four of his last six starts had been quality starts. He was coming off probably his best outing of the year — six innings, four hits, one run in a 9-1 win in Pittsburgh.
But he obviously is nowhere close to the pitcher he was before the three surgeries. He’s given up 67 hits in 42 2/3 innings. In the three years prior to the elbow problems, he never gave up more than a hit an inning.
Bailey will likely get better. He says he’s physically fine.
“It was one of those days,” he said. “Nothing felt good. I didn’t execute very many pitches. I had a lot that missed big. I had some that just missed. It was one of those deals where I didn’t perform well, and it cost our team the game.”
He’s not exactly a guy you can fully count on to build a rotation around.
And the young guys who were going to line up behind him have all been hurt or ineffective with the exception of Luis Castillo.
Anthony DeSclafani? He’s been hurt all year. The good news is his ulnar collateral ligament is sound. The bad news is they’re still try to figure out with he keeps getting tendonitis.
Brandon Finnegan? He’s dealing with left and right shoulder injuries. The injury to right shoulder has kept him from a throwing program with the left shoulder.
Robert Stephenson? On the DL with a bruised right rotator cuff. It’s minor, but he’s been wildly inconsistent.
Cody Reed? Struggling to throw strikes consistently in Triple-A.
Amir Garrett? He’s 1-3 with a 6.57 ERA in the Triple-A.
Sal Romano? He’s been good enough (203, 4.88) to continue to get a long look.
Castillo? He looks like a keeper. But he’s only made nine starts. You have to see how he handles teams after they see him once or twice.
Two of the pitchers in the rotation currently — Tim Adleman and Asher Wojciechowski — came to the club as minor league free agents. They’re 29 and 28, not exactly prospects anymore.
You’d think that Tyler Mahle, the best pitcher in the minors as far as numbers, will be up shortly.
But the Reds plan on putting Scott Feldman back in the rotation once he comes off the DL. Feldman’s a free agent and unlikely to return, so it’s hard to see the logic in that with all the questions about the 2018 rotation.
But if you’re Price, a manager without a contract for next year, you want to finish strong to have a chance to come back.
"You don't want to concede wins for development," Price said. "We're trying to play consistently good baseball, and from most aspects of our game we've been able to do that.”
Except for the starting pitching.
Price made what I thought was a huge admission a couple of weeks ago when he said the Reds may need to look at bringing in a veteran from the outside. Perhaps he’s unsure about the prospects.
Nothing’s happened since to change that.
I think adding a veteran is something the Reds have to look hard at. Because when I look at the 2018 rotation I see nothing but a lot of "ifs." And if the ifs don’t come through, 2018 will be a lot like 2017.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at email@example.com.