I discuss Scooter Gennett’s big night, Matt Harvey’s Great American Ballpark debut and more on today’s podcast.
You’ll hear from Harvey and Jim Riggleman following the Reds 7-2 win over the Pirates.
Listen and subscribe to the Locked on Reds podcast below.
Here are my thoughts on Homer Bailey’s future with the Reds.
The Sparky Anderson Memorial Showdown
The Cincinnati Reds return home Tuesday to host a pair of games against the Detroit Tigers. The Sparky Anderson Memorial Trophy currently resides with the Reds, as they took three of four games the last time these two teams got together in 2015. The Reds lead the all-time series 15 to 14 and some may even remember the seven-game World Series Cincinnati won in 1940.
This year, the Detroit Tigers currently sit in second place in the AL Central, 2.5 games behind the Cleveland Indians. The Tigers are, statistically, an anomaly thus far into the season. Despite their current standing, they rank in the bottom half of the AL in just about every statical category.
Individually, the Tigers will showcase their ERA leader on Tuesday in Matt Boyd (3.23) and their staff ace in Michael Fulmer.
Boyd’s last start was a no-decision against the Twins, He tossed five innings, allowing two runs while striking out five. He walked a pair of Twins and ran his pitch count up to 106 in those five innings, which seems to be a pattern with Boyd. He throws a lot of pitches and has yet to put together a walk-less outing. He hasn’t lost in his last four decisions.
Fulmer has had a bit of a roller coaster 2018 season. Just two weeks ago his ERA was up to 4.73 and he hadn’t pitched deeper than 6.1 innings in eight starts. He’s turned things around, though, in his last two outings by pitching seven innings in each one, allowing a solitary run per start while putting together an 11/1 strikeout to walk ratio.
Detroit’s bullpen sports a tasty 4.24 ERA and has issued the fourth most walks in the American League (107). The Tigers have the misfortune of leading the Majors in blown saves with 15. Look for some fireworks in the late innings when the Reds chase the starter.
Detroit’s bats are led by Nick Castellanos in practically every category. Castellanos slashes .310/.353/.502, has 89 hits, 34 extra-base hits, and 41 RBIs, all of which is tops in the Tiger clubhouse. John Hicks (.288) is the only other Tiger with regular playing time this year with a batting average over .270. Jeimar Candelario leads Detroit in homers with 10 while Jose Iglesias is the team speedster with 11 stolen bases.
Despite the statistics, the Tigers come to town with a five-game win streak in tow.
Though not on a streak of that magnitude, the Cincinnati Reds are coming off a winning road trip, going 3-2 on the week. The schedule was quite favorable to the Redlegs with two games against a team even worse off than them, the Royals, sandwiched between two off days, and a weekend series against the reeling Pirates.
Billy Hamilton turned in a heck of a performance on getaway day in Pittsburgh. He collected three hits, stole a pair of bases, and scored three times. He also made, statistically, the hardest catch this season. As many people were reporting on Twitter, Billy’s catch had a 2% chance of success, but as Han Solo once said, “Never tell me the odds.” In case you missed it, check it out:
Sal Romano and Tyler Mahle are scheduled to start against the Tigers.
Big Sal really showed up in his last outing, tossing eight innings of one-run baseball. The lone run came on a solo homer by Hunter Dozier. Romano dueled with Ian Kennedy, coming up with a no-decision while striking out a pair and walking one. He showed an ability to rely on his defense when he was in a jam and shaved over a half a run off his ERA.
Mahle also benefitted from a start against Kansas City, getting his fifth win of the season while tying his longest start of the season with six and a third shutout innings. It was the second time in three outings that he held the opposing team scoreless and made it into the win column. Mahle currently leads the team starters in ERA at 3.96.
Tuesday is one of the Reds many special bobblehead ticket package days as they celebrate Fiona the Hippo at the Cincinnati Zoo. You’ve got to have a special ticket, though, so check out reds.com for more details.
These two games against the Tigers are the first of four, total, this season. Two more are scheduled for July 31st and August 1st at Comerica park.
What You Missed Tuesday Night
Improbable is a word that comes to mind as a way to describe what, otherwise, was a lowly June ballgame between two teams who entered the game at least 20 games under .500. Neither the Reds’ nor the Royals’ division rivals put too much stock in the outcome of this one, but it sure was interesting. In case you missed it, check out the highlights from the Reds come-from-behind 5-1 win:
I thought, for sure, Billy Hamilton was out. After botching the bunt, and generally looking terrible at the plate all night, that had to be the icing on the cake. But no, Billy reminded us all why some hesitate when people talk about potentially trading him. Sure, he lowered his batting average last night, but this play changed the complexion of the game.
If Billy is ruled out, you have runners on first and second with two outs. Kevin McCarthy can be more judicious with his pitches to Joey Votto in the next at-bat, being totally ok with walking him. Then you put Scooter in a situation where the pitcher is comfortable and just trying to get him to pop up for out number three.
Instead, Billy is safe, the pitcher becomes tense, and Joey has all the momentum to do what Joey does best. Hamilton, despite being a rally-killer in the lineup of late, won the game with his base running. Maybe the Reds ought to take that into consideration? Seems like I heard someone say something about having Billy come off the bench late in games to pinch-run and field…
Sal Romano also deserves some praise for being the first Reds pitcher in, what feels like, eons to toss more than seven innings. Big Sal had control of all his pitches in this game. His fastball velocity was the best it’s been all season at 94.6 mph and he had his curveball working as a nice one-two punch. The defense really stepped up to make a complete effort in this game, but still give Romano some props. Despite being on the hot seat with Homer Bailey coming back to health, Big Sal stepped up and delivered his best performance of the season.
For his thoughts on the game-winning RBI, I present to you the unflappable Joseph Daniel Votto:
How can you not like that guy?
So, yeah, the Reds are still 19 games under .500, but Tuesday night was fun.
Amir Garrett’s historic start and his role in the future
The Cincinnati Reds have done plenty of things wrong during the current rebuild. Trades that came too late, roster decisions that didn’t happen soon enough (cough Nick Senzel cough) and moves that came with raised eyebrows.
That last one brings us to the topic at hand in Amir Garrett. After blazing through the minor leagues and establishing himself as one of the Reds’ top prospects, Garrett dazzled in his debut against the Cardinals. But an injury, one he would not disclose until the end of the season – derailed his rookie season.
Upon returning this spring, Garrett was handed a bullpen role that left many questioning the Reds’ decision-makers. And while the question remains about whether Garrett’s future is in the bullpen, one we’ll address later, what is unquestionable is that Garrett has been dominant this season.
At his current pace, Garrett, in his second season, is on pace for roughly 125 innings, is striking out 10.35 batters per nine innings and has a FIP of 3.36.
The list of pitchers in their second season eclipsing 100 innings with a strikeout rate of 10 per nine innings and a FIP of 3.40 is lower is an exclusive group across baseball history. Only five pitchers have accomplished that feat – Mariano Rivera (1996), Pedro Martinez (1993), Bruce Sutter (1977), Billy McColl (1965) and Dick Radatz (1963).
Each one of those pitchers made at least one All-Star game and three of them – Rivera, Martinez and Sutter – are Hall of Famers. Garrett is currently striking out more batters per nine than both Martinez and McCool, something that has been his calling card this season.
After just 8.02 strikeouts per nine last season, Garrett is striking out nearly 2.5 more batters per nine innings. A higher rate than at any stop in his career dating back to his time in the minor leagues.
For relievers 26 years or younger this season, Garrett is sixth in the league in xFIP at 3.17. Of the five relievers ahead of him, only three pitchers have a high strikeout rate: Josh Hader, Edwin Diaz and Carl Edwards, Jr.
His biggest bugaboo this season has been the long ball, as he’s allowed just over one homer per nine innings. Under the same parameters of relievers 26 or under, Garrett is 31st out of 39 pitchers in home runs per nine innings.
The counter to that, though, has been his walk rate. Last season, Garrett 5.09 batters per nine innings and, since 2014 where Garrett moved to Single-A ball, Garrett had never walked less than 3.44 batters per nine innings. This season, Garrett’s walk rate is down to 2.78, ninth-lowest among relievers 26 or younger.
Where is Garrett finding success? He’s limiting hard contact this season compared to last year but the ability to come out of the bullpen and not hold anything back has led to a fastball that is three miles per hour faster than last season.
More than anything, though, Garrett’s slider has become lethal at the plate. After throwing it 22.3 percent last season, he’s upped it to 32.2 percent this season at the sacrifice of his changeup, which he’s thrown 11 percent less this season. Like his fastball, his slider is up three miles per hour more.
Only five relievers this season have had a slider worth more runs above average than Garrett. Of those, only Adam Ottavino has a fastball that’s also worth more than Garrett. His one-two combo of fastball-slider has given Garrett a dynamic arsenal to work with.
Not surprisingly, Garrett has forced batters to swing at pitches outside of the strike zone six percent more this season with a contact rate on out-of-zone pitches down nine percent with a swinging strike percentage of 13.5 percent up from 8.6 percent last season.
What does all this mean for Garrett’s future? Adding him to the bullpen alongside Raisel Iglesias and newly-acquired Jared Hughes has led to the Reds sporting one of the best bullpens in the league.
Since April 27, the Reds’ bullpen ranks 10th in the league in xFIP, ninth in FIP and 10th in ERA despite pitching the second-most innings in that span.
Is it worth sacrificing one of the few strengths the Reds have to allow Garrett to start? On a team destined for 90-plus losses and with a rotation struggling mightily, it might be. Garrett looked dominant in minor league ball, was brilliant in his debut and, by all accounts, is better this season.
To his credit, Garrett has stated he has no preference of starting versus relieving.
The compromise, though, might be taking a page from the Tampa Bay Rays’ playbook. Sergio Romo has started five games for the Rays’ this season who have turned to their bullpen to start games with a young staff that has struggled.
Coming into Tuesday’s game against the Kansas City Royals, the Reds held an 8.12 ERA in the first inning. With a pair of relievers in Michael Lorenzen and Garrett who have history starting games, giving them the ball to open the game could alleviate the burden on the young and battered pitching staff.
Or maybe the Reds hand the ball to Garrett later in the season. As it stands, Tyler Mahle and Sal Romano both are on pace for well over 100 innings and both have struggled at times this season. The Reds could limit innings for either of the two and give Garrett a spot start. Maybe he can bring his newfound success in the bullpen to the starting rotation?
Whatever the move ends up being, though, Garrett has not only proven he belongs in the league but has succeeded at a historical clip.