CINCINNATI -- As a longtime spring training observer, I can tell you with some certainty that nothing good ever happens at spring training.
Sure, guys have great springs. Sure, young players take a step forward. But it doesn’t necessarily mean a thing. Remember Dave Sappelt? He hit .564 with three home runs and 12 RBI in 39 at-bats in spring training in 2011. I got a lot of “The Reds aren’t trying if Sappelt’s not on the team" tweets and emails.
Sappelt hit .247 with a no home runs and five RBI in 107 at-bats that season. There was no outcry when he was traded to the Cubs.
I could bring up Josias Manzanilla or a couple of other spring phenoms, but before I digress further, let me get to my point: Bad things do happen at spring training. And a very bad thing happened for the Reds when Anthony DeSclafani’s elbow started hurting again.
DeSclafani was sent back to Cincinnati to be examined. I avoid jumping to medical conclusions, but the best-case scenario is DeSclafani starts the year on the disabled list and returns in mid-to late-April.
That leaves the Reds in a tough spot. Right now, left-hander Brandon Finnegan is the only healthy pitcher in camp who spent all of last year in a major league rotation.
Scott Feldman, by default, is the No. 2 starter. Feldman spent most of last year in relief.
Beyond that, you have journeyman Tim Adleman, comeback 40-year-old kid Bronson Arroyo, waiver pickup Lisalverta Bonilla and a long list of prospects.
That said, I don’t think the Reds have trader’s remorse about the Dan Straily deal. The prospect they got for Straily, Luis Castillo, is good enough that he could be in the rotation at some point this year -- maybe at the start.
But DeSclafani’s injury on top of Homer Bailey’s setback is scary when you consider that this team will only be as good as its rotation. The offense, which comes back intact from last year, was eighth in the National League in runs. That’s good enough to play around .500. The bullpen should be much better with Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen healthy and in relief roles from the start, along with the addition of the Drew Storen.
But the rotation is only going to be good if the prospects are better than expected.
So it’s up to Robert Stephenson, Cody Reed, Amir Garrett, Sal Romano, Rookie Davis, Castillo, et al.
The Reds faced a similar situation last year when DeSclafani started the year on the DL with an oblique strain. They signed Alfredo Simon as a result. That could not have worked out much worse.
I’m sure the Reds are looking at what’s left on the free agent market. Tim Lincecum and Edwin Jackson are still out there. I’d probably pass on either.
“The first step is to find out what we're dealing with on Disco," President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams told reporters in Goodyear, Arizona. "We'll have a better idea after he undergoes further testing and the doctors give us a more definitive read of what we're dealing with -- whether this is a minor or major setback."
If he’s going to be out a long time, I’d guess the Reds try to bring someone in.
Arroyo’s outing Sunday -- two scoreless innings, two strikeouts -- is a ray of hope. If he continues to show he’s healthy -- by "healthy," I mean throwing in mid-80s -- I’d roll the dice with him for a couple of reasons. First, he’s so smart that he can get by with marginal stuff. Second, you can let him take a beating over five or six innings and not worry about it affecting his psyche. That is not true with the young pitchers. And given the overall uncertainty about the rotation, a pitcher may occasionally have to “take one for the team” to save the bullpen.
My guess right now is the rotation will be Finnegan, Feldman, Arroyo and the two young pitchers who look the best in spring training.
That’s more than a little scary.
There’s still nearly three weeks of spring training left. The Reds just have to hope nothing else bad happens.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at email@example.com