CINCINNATI -- When a season is as hopeless as the Reds', you look for some signs of, well, hope for the future.
Not the down-the-road future, but for next year.
Lately, the Reds have gotten some performances to maybe move the needle slightly toward cautiously optimistic for 2018. To wit:
- Robert Stephenson is 2-0 with a 2.76 ERA over his last three starts. He’s gone 16 1/3 innings and allowed 15 hits, nine walks and 18 strike outs.
- Sal Romano is 2-0 in with a 2.70 ERA over his last three starts. He’s gone 20 innings and allowed 17 hits, seven walks and 15 strike outs.
- Tyler Mahle was decent in his first start in the majors -- five innings, three runs on four hits, four walks, five strikeouts.
Given that Luis Castillo has been good since he arrived in the big leagues, it’s starting to look like some prospects are ready to produce in 2018. A couple of good starts doesn’t prove much.
But if Stephenson and Romano had continued to struggle, things would look a lot bleaker for next year.
I've written it dozens of times: To return to respectability, the young starting pitching has to get better. This season was lost because the tops prospects -- Stephenson, Romano, Cody Reed and Amir Garrett -- weren’t ready early in the year to pitch consistently well in the big leagues.
Stephenson and Romano can show they’re ready now.
“It’s imperative,” Reds manager Bryan Price said. “Because of the importance of knowing what we have going into spring training. We have to look at and know where Sal and Rob and Castillo and Mahle and these guys fit.
“Tyler a little less. He’s going to have less opportunity here. He’s going to have a handful of starts and then his season will be over. We’ve had a good opportunity to look at Castillo, Stephenson and Romano -- and with really positive results.”
Castillo is the one guy guaranteed a spot. A 3.26 ERA over 13 starts will do that. If Stephenson and Romano pitch well through September, you can probably pencil them into the rotation.
“The final month is a way to rubber stamp their ability to compete at this level with enough consistency to where any of us would be comfortable assuming they’re on the team next year,” Price said. “Quality performances are important. Not everyone is going to assure themselves of a spot, but they can at least give us to confidence that they’re a front runner."
Right now, the rotation is Homer Bailey and the aforementioned young guys. Bailey will be in the rotation if healthy next year. The same is true of Anthony DeSclafani. I wouldn’t go that far with Brandon Finnegan.
Price has said he also thinks the Reds need to bring in a veteran. General Manager Dick Williams has said the Reds will shop on the free agent market.
That would seemingly make it tough for Castillo, Stephenson, Romano and Mahle to be in the rotation.
But the last two years have taught the Reds one thing about pitching: Stuff happens, i.e, guys get hurt.
“The depth of the organization is key,” Price said. “I think we have that. We certainly need this group of kids who are currently in Triple-A to improve. For those who don’t make the club next year, they’ve got to be the next line to step in and not have a significant falloff.”
Price was referring to Cody Reed and Amir Garrett. Both of whom were ahead of Castillo, Stephenson, Romano and Mahle on the prospect list when the season started.
But Reed (4-9, 3.66 ERA) and Garrett (1-4, 6.38) have struggled at Triple-A after struggling in the majors. They’ll likely get a chance to pitch for the Reds in September. If they can take the steps like Stephenson and Romano have, it will increase the hopeful feelings in Redland.
“Our goal is to get considerably better,” Price said. “It’s not to five games better, eight games better, but considerably better. In order to do that, there has to be a reliability factor with the starting pitching. It has to be there.”
It’s there with Castillo. Stephenson and Romano will get another month to make their cases. If they do, hope away, Reds fans.
John Fay is a freelance sports columnist; this column represents his opinion. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org