GOODYEAR, Ariz. — Anthony DeSclafani realizes he’s in a different position in this spring training.
“I don’t think it’s too many times when you come into one season fighting for a fifth spot and then the next season there’s a possibility that you open,” DeSclafani said.
DeSclafani is in the position to start Opening Day for the Reds, partly because Homer Bailey won’t be ready from the start -- and because Johnny Cueto and Mike Leake were traded.
But DeSclafani did his part last season.
He went 9-13 with a 4.05 ERA as a rookie. He made all 31 starts and threw 184 1/3 innings.
While he is likely to start on Opening Day, he said he’s not taking it for granted.
“I want to earn that,” he said. “I don’t want that handed to me because I was there all season last year. I want to pitch well and earn it. If that doesn’t happen, that’s on me.”
DeSclafani, a 25-year-old right-hander, was something of unknown coming into spring training last year. The Reds obtained him from the Miami Marlins in the Mat Latos deal.
What stood out for Reds manager Bryan Price about DeSclafani had nothing to do with his talent.
“I didn’t know he was such a strong-minded, strong-willed kid,” Price said. “Those are the things you don’t see when you look at the video. We also had what we thought was some internal feedback from the Marlins. Really, they loved him. They loved the kid, but were unsure yet whether he was better suited as a starter or more of a late-game bullpen piece. I think that was defined last year pretty easily. He’s just a tough kid. I admired his toughness.”
Price said one moment in particular allowed DeSclafani's toughness to shine.
As he pitched into September for the first time, fatigue started to affect his results. DeSclafani was 9-10 with a 3.67 ERA after his Sept. 7 start, but he allowed 14 runs in 15 1/3 innings over his last three starts. He lost all three. That pushed his ERA to 4.05.
But he insisted on staying in the rotation.
“It gets to the point where it definitely feels long, especially in September,” DeSclafani said. “It’s that month of September that I wasn’t used in the minor leagues. I was starting to get tired. I told Bryan that I kind of needed to push through it, so I’d be better going forward.”
That impressed Price.
“I think the easy way out is to try to sit on numbers when you're on a team that is not headed to the playoffs,” Price said. “It would have been real easy for him to say 'I'm tired, fatigued, I don't have anything in the tank.' I think what he understood was the importance of that month of September was you have to be able to do it once to be able to do it twice.
“You know, how we are with pitching here, we want our guys to be innings eaters out of the rotation and that's something we push every year. He wanted to step up and fill that role. We're looking for better things from him this next year. I think he's going to have an even better year this year.”
DeSclafani got a full offseason of rest. He pitched in the Arizona Fall League the between the 2014 and 2015 seasons.
“I took a good amount of time off and gave my body a rest,” he said. “I now how long the season is now.”
Coaches said DeSclafani looks good in the early spring.
“His curveball and change-up got better (last season),” Price said, “and they’ve gotten better in the offseason. He’s shown up with better stuff early this spring. He hasn’t allowed himself to get comfortable like he’s made it.”
Last year gave DeSclafani confidence for this year.
“It’s pretty good momentum, just knowing I was able to pitch a full big league, knowing it’s possible,” he said. “It’s good to build off of. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun.”
The fun may start on Opening Day for DeSclafani.