CINCINNATI — When Bryan Price took over as Reds manager in 2014, he talked about using the bullpen in an unconventional manner.
Maybe use Aroldis Chapman for more than one inning. Maybe use the young starting prospects as relievers. Maybe use lefties to face right-handed hitters more often.
That never happened until this year. That is not to blame Price. He was a first-year manager with a high-profile (high-ego) closer. And after 2014, the emphasis was on rebuilding, so the Reds felt that the best place for the top prospects was in the minors to aid their development.
But this year, we’re seeing what Price was talking about when he was promoted from pitching coach.
It’s eight games in, but it’s going swimmingly. Reds relievers are 3-0 with a 1.31 ERA and a .145 opponent average. That ERA is second best in the majors. That opponent BA is third.
The walk-to-strikeout ratio is an incredible 4-to-28.
The bullpen is the biggest reason the Reds are 6-2. This after the bullpen was historically bad last year. Reds relievers led the majors in home runs allowed (103), walks (297) and runs (359) in 2016.
Having Michael Lorenzen and Raisel Iglesias healthy and in the bullpen is a huge boost.
But Price has pushed the right buttons at every turn. He put Lorenzen into Monday night’s game six outs in. He went with a quick hook of Blake Wood Tuesday night in favor of Iglesias.
It worked out perfectly – literally - on both occasions. Lorenzen retired all nine of his batters and Iglesias retired all five for his third save.
Is it sustainable? Probably not. While most of the relievers' stats are glowing, one is troubling. Through eight games, the relievers have pitched 34 1/3 innings, second most in the majors. That’s a pace for 695 innings.
No bullpen can remain effective with that workload, though that should level out as the starters build their pitch counts.
But the Reds did put the best young arms who didn’t make the rotation in the bullpen. Cody Reed followed Lorenzen by getting nine straight outs of his own. Robert Stephenson struggled in his last outing, but he has stretched out enough that he could go four innings to give the rest of the bullpen a night off.
The good relief helps the whole team. In Tuesday’s game, veteran relievers Tony Cingrani and Drew Storen held the fort while the offense came around.
(Side note: The pickup of Scooter Gennett looks like $2.5 million well spent. It allows Jose Peraza to back up Zack Cozart and Billy Hamilton and slide Gennett into the lineup. A left-handed bench bat with pop was a glaring need).
You see the confidence growing. But baseball is a long, long season. The Reds started 5-1 last year and 4-1 in 2015. We all know what happened.
But I think Price’s use of the bullpen and those good young arms in the majors make this much more sustainable.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at email@example.com.