CINCINNATI -- The Reds are coming off the kind of road trip that could have buried them. They lost all six games on their West Coast swing.
But they only lost 1 1/2 games in the National League Central race, so here they are. It's mid-June, and hope is still alive in Redsland. The fact that they are close to getting 40 percent of their projected rotation back would seem to set the Reds up for a good run.
The key is holding the fort for the next 10-14 days.
"I think it's fact that most of teams in the division are hovering around .500 that's allowing to us to really get excited about what we can still accomplish," Reds manager Bryan Price said. "We really wanted to stay in it into July. Then we have some choices. You're either going to strengthen your roster, stand pat or move some pieces. We'd like to be in position where we can add something to give us a shot to be in it August and September. You can't allow yourself to get too far back."
Price was speaking shortly after watching Homer Bailey throw a bullpen session.
"He looked great," Price said. "He commanded all of his pitchers. His arm looks like it is in great shape, especially coming after a six-inning, 74-pitch effort in Dayton. He's looked as good as ever."
Bailey, the nominal ace of this staff, has been sensational in two rehab starts -- 11 innings pitches, four hits, no runs, one walk, 11 strikeouts. He'll make one more start for Triple-A Louisville and then likely be activated, although Price would not commit 100 percent to that.
"We'll reassess (after the Louisville start) if he needs more work, if he needs more time or if he feels like he's ready or if we feel like he's ready," Price said. "We'll put all our thoughts together and they to make a good decision."
"We want to get him where he can go out and throw 100 pitches plus and where he feels sharp and is rebounding well," Price said. "So far he has,but we want to make sure everything is as it should be. It could be one more start. It could be more."
Brandon Finnegan was making his second rehab start Friday for Double-A Pensacola.
Price has avoided talking about timetables with either. But barring setbacks, Bailey and Finnegan will be in the rotation soon. The rotation, of course, has been weak link of the this club. The Reds' starters rank last in the NL in ERA (5.97) and in innings pitched (4.98 innings per start).
The Reds are 16-7 when they get a quality start. Bailey and Finnegan should up the number of quality starts.
"It's no brainer that it will help," catcher Tucker Barnhart said. "Homer and Finnegan are guys who have a track record of pitching deeper into games and having success. Those guys are on the cusp of being back. It's definitely something that we're looking forward to, something we need."
Price admits he's thinking about how to rework the rotation and the pitching staff in general once Bailey and Finnegan are ready.
"You look at it just because you have to," Price said. "In the same respect until they're activated pitchers, things can change. Things can change in a day. They can change in five or 10. It's still a while before we see these guys. But I also think it's important that we assess the entire rotation. What's our best rotation with Finnegan and Homer coming back?"
Bronson Arroyo (3-5, 7.01 ERA), Asher Wojciechowski (1-0, 5.21 ERA) and Amir Garrett (3-5, 6.91 ERA) are all candidates to get pulled from the rotation.
They are also candidates to end up the bullpen if they're pulled.
"What's our best bullpen with those two coming back and having to make decisions with starters that don't remain in the rotation?" Price said.
It's clear the rotation and the bullpen will be better with Bailey and Finnegan back, but, again, the key is to hang in there until then.
"For us, it's been a step forward and a step back," Price said. "What we don't want to do as we're trying to get healthy with the rotation is slip back."