GOODYEAR, Ariz. (AP) — Homer Bailey went an entire offseason without surgery or rehabilitation sessions, the most encouraging sign for a Cincinnati Reds team that needs him to get back to the front of the rotation after three years of injuries.
“I finally had a normal winter, you might say,” Bailey said.
The 31-year-old pitcher was expected to be a cornerstone of the staff when he got a $105 million, six-year deal before the 2014 season. Instead, he’s pitched in only 26 games and gone 8-13 in the last three years while recovering from an operation to repair a tendon in his right forearm, Tommy John surgery and a procedure to remove bone spurs from the right elbow last February.
Bailey makes $21 million this year and $23 million in 2018, second only to Joey Votto on the club’s payroll. The Reds are encouraged Bailey has no medical problems as spring training gets underway, a major improvement from the last two years.
“Last season I had surgery the week before I reported,” Bailey said. “The winter before that I was barely throwing at all. So this was a different change of pace.”
He was activated on June 24 and struggled with his control, going 6-9 with a 6.43 ERA. He got better as the season wound down, finally getting his fastball to go where he intended.
“If you’re not sharp, it’s going to be a long day no matter what stuff you’re featuring,” he said.
Bailey threw no-hitters at Pittsburgh in 2012 and the following season against the Giants at Great American Ball Park, dominating with a fastball that has yet to return to peak form.
“His other pitches are accessory pitches because he pitches off his fastball,” manager Bryan Price said. “We remember the no-hitters when he was throwing 97 or 98 mph in the last three innings and blowing fastballs past hitters.”
Cincinnati is counting on Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani and left-hander Brandon Finnegan to stay healthy. They were limited to a combined 22 starts last season. DeSclafani missed the entire season with a sore elbow. Finnegan had a back problem and separated his shoulder midway through the season.
The Reds ended up using young starters who weren’t ready for the majors. The Reds allowed the most homers in the majors and were last in the NL in runs, walks and ERA at 5.17.
Luis Castillo made the best impression of the rookies and is slotted for the fourth spot in the rotation. The fifth spot is open to competition.