CINCINNATI - The Reds have ended up where they are seemingly overnight. But it will take a long time for them to be relative again.
It seems like yesterday, but it was long ago, as the great Bob Seger sings.
Five seasons ago, every single one of the Reds' starting pitchers made every single one of his scheduled starts. Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey, Bronson Arroyo and Mike Leake. Never missed a beat.
This year? The Reds should seriously consider an "Anyone Can Pitch Night."
This year, the Reds have started seven rookie pitchers through 94 games. They have used 13 different starting pitchers. That's four shy of the team record, set in that pitiful season of 2003. Elmer Dessens, where are you in our moment of need?
Right now, the Reds are on track to win 67 games this season. That's one worse than last year. That would be the fewest wins in one season since 2001, when that group managed just 66. So what's the problem?
I'll take no starting pitching, Alex, for $100.
It also speaks to a deeper problem. The Reds haven't done a very good job of developing players they've drafted. While Hunter Greene, taken second overall this year, looks promising and while Nick Senzel, drafted seventh overall in 2016, is hitting well in Double-A ball right now, the Reds have whiffed on a lot of first-round draft picks.
Outfielder Phillip Ervin, 2013's first-round pick, wasn't hitting in Double-A this season. Yet the Reds promoted him to Triple-A. His current .267 average doesn't project all that well to what he might be able to do in the Majors.
Shortstop Alex Blandino, a 2014 first-round pick, is hitting .241 in Triple-A. Another 2014 first-round pick, pitcher Nick Howard, has had some injury setbacks. He has pitched the last two seasons in Single-A ball and is now a bullpen pitcher rather than someone who looked like a sure fire starter.
Jesse Winker can't hit for power and average. Nick Travieso hasn't pitched above Double-A since he was drafted in 2012 in the first round. Tyler Stephenson, a 2015 first-round pick, is stuck in low A ball, hitting .278.
Juan Perez is an interesting player. He's hitting .300 at Triple-A Louisville. But he's a second baseman. The Reds are over-stocked at middle infield. The centerpiece of the trade that sent Jay Bruce to the Mets last summer is Dilson Herrera, another middle infielder. Herrera is hitting a not-so-robust .257 these days in Louisville.
So if we know what the problem is, what is the answer? You can take all of the names listed above and together they wouldn't return a starting pitcher of any merit.
The Reds are in a quandary. Their everyday eight is solid enough to be competitive. But those players are getting nothing but more expensive and older. The Reds need pitching now and they need to start playing the game differently.
I think Luis Castillo has the stuff to stay. He might even become a top-of-the-rotation guy or a top-two guy. That’s if the Reds don’t play with his mind, much like they did with Amir Garrett. Garrett should have never been sent down.
The move back in May was allegedly to control his innings so he wouldn’t burn his arm out later in the year. My ears tell me one thing. My mind tells me another. It was all about controlling his Major League clock. Even if controlling his innings rather than his Major League clock was the real reason why he was banished to the minors, you have to over convince the player this is what you’re doing.
When Garrett re-emerged at Great American Ball Park after his demotion, he wasn’t the same pitcher. He’s just coming out of it now in Louisville. And guess what? His Major League clock is back under control.
What I’m about to say is more anecdotal that fact. I don’t have the facts on every pitcher who’s ever pitched in Major League Baseball in front of me, but I would guess for as much hand wringing as there is on controlling a player's clock, delaying his arbitration years and his free agent date, it really doesn’t matter in the long run.
Most pitchers not only get hurt in the first five years of their Major League careers, a large number of them need surgery. Elbow, shoulder, biceps - some kind of surgery. With a pitcher, you roll with him, regardless of his Major League clock. And if you can’t afford to keep him when he’s free agent-eligible, then you have someone else ready in the minors to take his place.
Position players, a little different, They don’t suffer, usually, the same kind of debilitating injuries pitchers do. Castillo needs to stay. Garrett should have never been sent down. Tyler Mahle needs to be in Cincinnati sooner than later. You mix in Hunter Greene and there are your top four starting pitchers for the 2019 season. If he defies the odds, Homer Bailey will still be around to anchor the staff. And you continue to scout, draft and cultivate pitching to replace any of those five, should you have to.
Sal Romano, Rookie Davis, Robert Stephenson and Cody Reed will all get their shots again. In this day and age, you need more than five. You probably need at least eight. But to mess with a pitcher's Major League clock early in his career to save money five years down the road is bad business.
It's hard to miss on a first-round pick in any sport. There are too many metrics, too much video and too many in-game scouts to whiff on a first-rounder. The Reds have whiffed a lot lately.
While baseball is resplendent with tales of great players taken in later rounds (enough with the Albert Pujols example), the fact is few championship teams are built on broken first-round picks.
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Let's take time out to wish the great Carlos Santana a happy 70th birthday today.
The great Tito Puente wrote this song. But it's Santana who made it a hit.
It's not Santana who sings lead. It's his keyboard player, Gregg Rolie, who later went onto establish the band Journey. Rolie was just a teenager when he signed on with Carlos Santana. Rolie also sang lead on a lot of Santana songs like "Black Magic Woman" and "Evil Ways." And played Woodstock with Santana as a 22-year-old.
As for Carlos, winner of 10 Grammy Awards, he currently lives in Las Vegas. His latest project is an album titled "Power of Peace," a collaboration with Ron and Ernie Isley (of the Cincinnati Isley Brothers) and Cindy Blackman. It's an album that covers some classic songs, including some hits from Stevie Wonder's catalog and Marvin Gaye's.