The biggest strength of the Cincinnati Reds for the past two seasons has been their bullpen. No fewer than three Major League closers are on the roster, including Aroldis Chapman, Jonathan Broxton and Sean Marshall.
The case is totally different going into 2014, as the Reds relief corps could actually be a liability. Broxton and Marshall are both coming off of injuries, and Chapman will miss the first month after getting hit in the face with a batted ball late in the spring.
Even if the staff is able to overcome injuries to the big three, the club still faces the problem of overwork. Bronson Arroyo, who averaged almost seven innings per start during his career, left the Reds as a free agent to sign with Arizona.
Arroyo’s replacement in the rotation, left hander Tony Cingrani, is not likely to give the Reds as many innings per start. In fact, Cingrani has proven that he is little more than a long reliever.
Cingrani, throughout 2013, was dominant in the first four innings. His career earned run average in the first part of a ball game is just around 3.00, giving him the second best numbers among the team starters.
Unfortunately, Cingrani tires very quickly, as evidenced by the fact that his career ERA goes from 3.06 in the fourth inning to 4.20 in fifth inning. He tends to strike out a lot of hitters, but adding to the trouble are the large number of bases on balls he issues.
High pitch totals have caused Cingrani to average just over five innings per start, as he threw just 97 innings in his 18 starts last season. Arroyo, on the other hand, managed 202 innings in 32 games, nearly seven innings per start.
The result of Cingrani taking the mound every fifth day instead of Arroyo will be an increase of innings for an already injury-plagued bullpen. Perhaps Cincinnati manager Bryan Price, himself a former pitching coach, should consider adopting a two-man fifth starter.
He could schedule Cingrani to pitch the first four innings, and then replace him with Alfredo Simon in the fifth. Simon has already been a spot starter and long reliever, so the combination of him and Cingrani should make an efficient fifth member of the rotation.
Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa employed a similar tactic with the Oakland A’s back in the mid 90s, when he named three pitchers for each game instead of just the starter. The strategy did not catch on, but this more pragmatic application of it could keep the Reds’ bullpen as dominant as it has been the past two seasons.