CINCINNATI -- The Cincinnati Reds’ rebuilding process isn’t finished. But, expectations have changed for this season.
That point was made clear on Thursday morning when manager Bryan Price and pitching coach Mack Jenkins were relieved of their duties after a 3-15 start.
"We just can’t let anyone get comfortable with this type of start," said Reds general manager Dick Williams on a Thursday morning conference call with reporters. "There’s a sense of urgency to show improvement over last year. We had to act now."
It is the earliest point in a season that the Reds have fired a manager. Tony Perez was fired after only 44 games in 1993.
But, Williams deflected the notion that the Reds' decision with Price was rash.
"It might seem early to some people," he said. "We began thinking about the 2018 season as soon as the 2017 season ended. "We’ve had all offseason to prepare. We were out in Arizona (for spring training) for six weeks. We feel like we’re well into the 2018 season. We’ve had a lot of chances to observe this group together."
Former major league manager and bench coach Jim Riggleman replaced Price as interim manager. Triple-A Louisville manager Pat Kelly was promoted to interim bench coach, and Double-A pitching coach and longtime major league pitcher Danny Darwin replaced Jenkins as Reds pitching coach.
Riggleman managed in parts of 12 Major League seasons with the Padres, Cubs, Mariners and Nationals. He led the 1998 Cubs to the National League Wild Card game. Riggleman welcomed the chance to manage again but regretted the circumstances. He is 662-824 (.445) as a manager.
"Bryan Price is a great man, a great friend," Riggleman said. "The responsibility of Bryan not being here falls on all of us, (including) the coaches, of which I was one. I look forward to moving forward and trying to win some ballgames and get this thing turned around."
The Reds have lost 10 of their last 11 games. The 3-15 start is the Reds’ worst since they began the 1931 season 2-17.
Williams said he and executive advisor Walt Jocketty met with Price and Jenkins on Wednesday night in Milwaukee to discuss the decision.
"We expressed gratitude for what they’ve given to the organization," Williams said. "We thanked them for their contributions. Both handled it quite professionally as you would expect. This is the culmination of a lot of things."
The Reds have an off-day on Thursday in St. Louis where they begin a three-game series on Friday night, coming off consecutive 2-0 losses to the Brewers in Milwaukee. The Reds return home on Monday to face the Braves in a three-game series at Great American Ball Park.
Price had the eighth-worst winning percentage in Reds franchise history, with a 279-387 record since being promoted from pitching coach to replace Dusty Baker as manager following the 2013 season. Baker led the Reds to a pair of NL Central titles and three postseason appearances, but never won a playoff series.
Price who served as Reds’ pitching coach for four seasons under Baker and helped develop young pitchers such as Johnny Cueto and Edinson Volquez, was asked to help engineer a rebuilding process centered mostly around its young arms.
While patience has worn thin among Reds fans, responsibility for the Reds’ struggles goes beyond Price. And, Williams acknowledged as much on Thursday.
"This is an organizational disappointment," Williams said. "We all need to take our share of the blame in this. Nobody feels Bryan or Mack is a scapegoat for what has happened. It’s the first step in a process of making it right."
A rash of injuries in recent years, mostly to key members of the pitching staff including Homer Bailey and Anthony DeSclafani, have adversely impacted the Reds’ rebuilding efforts.
Bailey, who signed a six-year, $105 million deal in 2014, returned this season after multiple surgeries limited him to only 26 starts the past three seasons. DeSclafani, the signature piece in a trade with the Marlins in December 2014, started the past three seasons on the disabled list, including this one.
Over the past five seasons, 50 different Reds players have made 83 appearances on the DL. The Reds have seven players currently on the DL as of Wednesday.
The Reds used 31 pitchers last season, one shy of the franchise record set the season before. The Reds' staff earned run average of 5.42 to begin this season ranks last in the major leagues.
Price has been forced to put pitchers’ feet to the fire throughout his tenure.
The Reds have had 32 players make their major-league debuts the past three seasons, the most in the majors. Rookies have made more than half of the Reds’ starts the past four years including a club-record 110 in 2015.
This was the season that the rotation was finally going to be stabilized, but DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan, and Michael Lorenzen didn’t make it out of spring training healthy. Finnegan rejoined the rotation last week.
Injuries to pitchers isn’t something unique to the Reds, it’s something that is rampant throughout baseball. But, rebuilding around pitching is a precarious venture, especially in a hitter-friendly ballpark like Great American Ball Park.
"The pitching is the area we’re most focused on with this rebuild," Williams said, when asked why Jenkins was fired. "We want to see this group succeed. We wanted a new voice in that area to improve the results there."
The everyday lineup, considered among the Reds’ strengths coming into the season, has produced three or fewer runs in 10 of 18 games this season, while the Reds have been shut out four times.
The defense has regressed as well, mostly due to the departures of Zack Cozart and Brandon Phillips and third baseman Eugenio Suarez being on the DL with a fractured thumb. Right fielder Scott Schebler currently is out with a bruised elbow.
None of this is Price’s fault, of course.
His success as a pitching coach made him the ideal man to carry this rebuild through to completion, but it was made clear that some improvement in the win-loss column was expected this season as the team moved into another stage of the rebuild.
Williams said this week the Reds aren’t quite ready to promote top prospect Nick Senzel, although Price indicated to reporters last weekend that he believes Senzel could help the team. Top pitching prospect Hunter Greene, currently at Single-A Dayton, is a couple of years away from reaching the major leagues.
Three straight 90-plus loss seasons, coupled with a historically bad start to this year, forced the Reds’ hand.
"We couldn’t afford to wait," said Williams.
Weather has been horrid in many major-league towns this spring, although the Reds’ season attendance average of around 16,000 fans through seven home games, excluding the usual sellout on Opening Day, was only going to get worse if the losing continued.
The Reds are expected to conduct a thorough managerial search for Price’s permanent replacement later this year. Williams said there is no timeline for a managerial search, but that it would likely occur late in the season when more external candidates would be available.
Potential permanent Reds managerial candidates include Riggleman, former Reds shortstop and Hall of Famer Barry Larkin, former Red Sox manager and current Reds scout John Farrell, and former New York Yankees manager Joe Girardi. But, that’s all speculation at this point.
Williams said he doesn’t regret making the decision in July of last season bring Price back for another year, and added that, in addition to Thursday’s managerial and coaching changes, all aspects of baseball operations would be examined to identify areas of improvement.
"We’re going to hit the ground running tomorrow," Williams said. "We are very focused on creating a sense of urgency now. When guys show up for work, there has to be a sense of urgency that day. We’ve got a good group of guys who support each other. They’ve performed in the face of losing teammates with injuries. They have never complained. Nobody wanted to be in this position. We know we have the ability to do it."