CINCINNATI — If the National League Manager of the Year vote was today, I’d vote for Bryan Price. Some of his Twitter followers would vote him 15th.
But for the Reds to be 10-9 with all the injuries and all the young pitchers is remarkable.
To get that 10th win, Price did what he’s done all year: Throw the managing book in the dumpster. He used his quasi-closer Raisel Iglesias in the eighth inning with a four-run lead. The Reds escaped with a 7-5 win over the Chicago Cubs.
Price knew Sunday’s game was one the Reds had to win. Getting swept by the Cubs and losing two winnable games would have been soul-crushing for a young team, so Price went with his best reliever early in a non-save situation.
“The Cubs have been unreal in late-game situations,” Price said. “They showed that to us Friday. Give them an inch, and they’re going to take a mile. They’re an excellent team.
“If I let that inning get too far out of control, if he gives up that one hit, it might be the hit that changes the course of the ball game. I don’t want to create a fire that that other guys in the bullpen can’t put out.
“You have to take what’s there to win.”
The putting-out-the-fire analogy is fitting.
Price has spent the season putting out what seems to be a never-ending series of pitching fires. His top three starters — Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani and Brandon Finnegan — are on the disable list. And none of the three is coming off soon. Rookie Davis, who began the year in the rotation, is on the DL as well.
As a result, the Reds have used 17 pitchers already this year and made 21 roster moves involving a pitcher since Opening Day.
The Reds are also relying heavily on youth. That’s led to a lot of short starts. The starters, in fact, are averaging just under five innings a start. That puts tremendous stress on the bullpen — and the guy trying to manage it.
But Price hasn’t let the stress affect his relationship with his players.
Sunday’s winner Bronson Arroyo said the team has been "relatively steady."
“Bryan does a really good job — he always has — of articulating his point to people," Arroyo said. "He never gets frazzled or bothered too much by wins and losses, which you like to see. We understand that the game is hard. Given the young locker room we have if we can play .500, that’s a pretty good season. Do better than that, it’s icing on cake.”
Price has done a masterful job by not sticking to convention, particularly with the bullpen.
It hasn’t worked every time. Price went with Michael Lorenzen for 43 pitches Friday night and he ended up giving up a game-tying, three-run homer to Anthony Rizzo. Price took a beating on social media, but he was doing what he’s done all year.
When you look at the totality of the results, it’s worked out better than anyone expected. The bullpen went into Sunday with the third best ERA in the National League at 3.09. They were second worst in the NL last year at 5:09.
Slice two runs off the bullpen ERA without an expensive free agent acquisition? That’s why, in my mind, Price is the manager of the year so far. You’ve got to grade that on curve. The Cubs have a $172 million payroll. The Reds is $95 million, $13 million of which goes to Brandon Phillips.
“I would say you couldn’t ask for much more than we’ve gotten out of this year,” Arroyo said.
After Sunday’s game, I hung around to ask Price if he was enjoying this at all, given the difficult hand he’s been dealt.
“I’ve enjoyed this team as much as any team I’ve managed, and most of those — if not all of those — I’ve coached,” he said. “And I’ve coached some wonderful teams with wonderful players. I’ve enjoyed this so much.
“However, I’ve never grinded so much with the current status of our rotation and our bullpen and trying to give this team every chance to win. We haven’t had a lot to celebrate in the previous three years. I think we have enough here to win.”
I thought a decent start was paramount, given the youth of this club. The Reds have done that through 19 games. Sunday was their 10th win. That’s one more game than they won in the month of April last year. That bodes well when they start getting players back from the DL.
“When we get healthy, I hate to say easier, but it might look a little more more typical,” Price said. “Now, it’s Lorenzen or Iglesias in the middle innings, then whoever’s surviving down in the bullpen may have to close. I’m OK with that, but it’s not ideal.
“We’re doing everything we can to win every game we have a chance to win and keep ourselves relevant in the division.That’s my goal for this team: To play meaningful games in August and September.”
That’s a long way off, but so far so good.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.