The Cincinnati Reds will go into the 2021 season without two of last year’s most important pitchers - National League Cy Young Award winner Trevor Bauer and closer Raisel Iglesias.
How manager David Bell will work around those blockbuster departures is the overriding question as his pitchers begin throwing this week during spring training. Without major offseason additions, the cost-conscious Reds are going to have to count on getting more out of some of the guys who have been around a while.
Bell is fine with that. Enthusiastic, even.
“We see our rotation as a strength,” he said. “Obviously we lost Trevor, and we all know what a significant loss that is, but to be able to say our rotation is still a strength is pretty impressive, with the depth that we have.”
At the front of the Cincinnati staff will be some familiar names: 2020 opening-day starter Sonny Gray (5-3, 3.70 ERA) and Luis Castillo (4-6, 3.21), who started the opener in 2019. With Anthony DeSclafani also moving on, Tyler Mahle (2-2, 3.59) and Wade Miley (0-3, 5.65) are expected to line up behind them.
Right-hander Michael Lorenzen (3-1, 4.28) - a reliever in recent years who was effective as a spot starter at the end of last season - will get a chance to break into the rotation, Bell said. Right-hander Tejay Antone (2.80, 45 strikeouts in 35 1/3 innings) was too good last year to not get a look as a potential starter.
“I prepared as a starter,” Antone said this week. “There’s an opportunity for me to have that job, and I’m going to do my best to take it.”
Bell said he anticipates going with a starting staff of five instead of moving to six, as is the trend with some MLB teams.
“Even if we go into the season with a five-man rotation, we have guys that can step in, guys that can pitch multiple innings out of the bullpen,” Bell said. “So we’re in a good situation with our rotation, and the more we can build guys up, the more options we’ll have as we get closer to the season.”
Traded to Cincinnati as part of a three-team deal in midseason 2019, Bauer was terrific in the pandemic-shortened season, parlaying a 1.73 ERA and 100 strikeouts in 73 innings into a three-year, $102 million contract with the reigning World Series champion Los Angeles Dodgers. The Reds traded Iglesias and his $9 million salary to the Los Angeles Angels for Noe Ramirez, who will compete for a role in the bullpen.
A couple of players who emerged as key contributors in last season’s bullpen, Lucas Sims and Amir Garrett, have made it clear they covet the closer’s job, which is open for the first time since Iglesias established himself there in 2016.
Right-hander Sims finished with a 2.45 ERA with 34 strikeouts in 25 2/3 innings. Left-hander Garrett’s ERA was identical, and he struck out 26 in 18 1/3 innings.
“You want to be the guy,” said Sims, who was hampered by an offseason elbow issue but doesn’t expect it to delay his development this spring. “You know, if you’re in the rotation, you want to be an ace. And if you’re in the bullpen, you want to be that back end to lock it down. I saw (Iglesias leaving) as an opportunity to go out there and do what I’m capable of and trying to grab that.”
Said Garrett: “You guys know where I want to be, (Bell) knows where I want to be, the front office knows where I want to be. All that will work out later in the spring.”
The wild card might be 34-year-old Sean Doolittle, the former Washington Nationals closer signed by the Reds to a one-year, $1.5 million contract to add some experience and another lefty to the back end of the bullpen. After a disappointing 2020 season, Doolittle will get a chance to regain the form he had with the Nationals from 2017 to 2019, when he had 75 saves.
Position players report to spring training in Goodyear, Arizona, on Sunday, with the first full team workout Monday. The Reds open the regular season April 1 against St. Louis.
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