CINCINNATI — Back in late March and early April — you know, when hope springs eternal — we posed the Nine Big Questions we thought the Reds faced going into the season.
Now 55 games in (as I write), nearly a third of season, we’re taking a look back at those questions. Remarkably, given how the season has gone overall, the Reds have gotten some very positive answers.
To others — hint, they involve pitching — things have not gone well at all. We’ll look at them in the order they ran up to Opening Day (all stats are entering Saturday):
Question 1: Can Eugenio Suarez fill the void at third base?
Answer: It’s been a mixed bag. Suarez has given the Reds about what they would have gotten from Todd Frazier (.242, 13 home runs and 33 RBI). But Suarez has 10 errors. He has to get more consistent defensively.
Question 2: Is Billy Hamilton healthy and will he hit?
Answer: It was no and no until recently. But since he’s gotten healthy, Hamilton has started to hit. He was up to .255 going into Saturday’s game. With his speed and defense, the Reds can live with that.
Question 3: Will Jay Bruce remain a Red and what can we expect from him at the plate?
Answer: Bruce is still a Red obviously. His name is getting mentioned now that San Francisco’s Hunter Pence is injured. The Reds will certainly look at moving him. His value has to be up based on his numbers — .269, 11 home runs, 36 RBI.
Question 4: Are Devin Mesoraco and Zack Cozart healthy and how much can we expect them to play this season?
Answer: No and not at all after the first three weeks for Mesoraco Yes and every day for Cozart. Mesoraco’s 2016 was as disappointing as his 2015. The only difference is it was a shoulder injury, not a hip injury, that did him in. Cozart has been the feel-good story of the spring. He has hit from Day 1. He went into Saturday hitting .310 with eight homers and 22 RBI. He is likely to be the Reds' All-Star representative.
Question 5: Who’s in left?
Answer: Adam Duvall. Going into the spring, the field was as crowded as the Republican presidential field. The Reds decided to go with Duvall and Scott Schebler, but Duvall outplayed Schebler early to win the job. It’s a decision the Reds haven’t regretted. Duvall hit 11 home runs in May. He leads with the team 15. Over half his hits have gone for extra bases. He has also played very well defensively.
Question 6: What to do with the Jose Peraza?
Answer: Let him work on his game in Triple-A. Peraza, the prize of the Frazier trade, got a brief call-up when Hamilton was on the bereavement list. Peraza has hit well at Louisville. But with Cozart, Hamilton and Duvall playing well, there’s nowhere to play him.
(Given the answers to the question so far, you’d think the Reds were contenders. Other than Mesoraco, the aforementioned players have come through. But now we’ve hit the pitching questions).
Question 7: Will the rotation be better now that the rookies are all sophomores?
Answer: We don’t really know. Of the top rookies — Anthony DeSclafani, Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen — only Iglesias has pitched and just barely. Homer Bailey’s return was delayed and John Lamb and Jon Moscot have spent time on DL as well. As a result, the best thing you can say about the rotation is it's better than the bullpen. Sensing that depth may be a problem, the Reds added Alfredo Simon just before the season. He has been a disaster — 2-5, 8.94 ERA. Things could get better soon, though. DeSclafani is close. Bailey, Iglesias and Lorenzen aren’t far behind, although Lorenzen will be used in relief.
Question 8: What about the bullpen?
Answer: The closer, J.J. Hoover, and the top set-up man, Jumbo Diaz, are in the Triple-A. That gives you a clue to how bad it’s been. But nearly everyone in the ‘pen has struggled and mightily. The Reds have a Major League-worst 6.58 ERA. They have walked the most in MLB. And they have converted just six of 16 save chances.
Question 9: How many wins?
Answer: The jury’s still out because of the pitching injuries. But the short answer: Not many. The Reds had won three in a row going into Saturday and were still on a pace to lose 103 games. That would be a franchise worst. Avoiding that might be a reasonable goal at this point. Sure, the pitching should get better, but the offense may get worse if the Reds trade Bruce and/or Cozart.