CINCINNATI (AP) — Every Reds’ opponent respects their offense, their defense and the back of their bullpen. They also know the missing ingredient that has been a constant thread in three straight 90-loss seasons.
“As they improve their pitching,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said, “they’re going to get good fast.”
So far, they haven’t been able to assemble a rotation capable of pulling them out of last place. Instead, the rotation is the main thing keeping them there.
Cincinnati finished last in the NL Central for the third year in a row. The Reds have dropped 98, 94 and 94 games in the last three seasons, their longest stretch of 90 losses since 1930-34. During that span, they’ve set major league records for horrible pitching, especially by the rotation.
The staff finished with a 5.17 ERA, just shy of the club record of 5.19 in 2004. They gave up 248 homers, 10 shy of their major league record from last season. It was another season of trying to make something out of nothing as far as experience goes — there were four rookies in the rotation at year’s end.
And it was all very familiar. The Reds finished the 2015 season with 64 consecutive starts by rookies, a modern major league record. They had a rookie-heavy rotation again in 2016, in part because of injuries to Homer Bailey and Anthony DeSclafani. Their main offseason addition to the rotation was Scott Feldman, who started a club-high 21 games and went 7-7 with a 4.77 ERA.
Instead of hoping the young pitchers will mature quickly, the Reds need to get some dependable veterans in the offseason if they want to get out of last place.
“I don’t know if that’s through trade or free agency, but we have to come a long way with our pitching staff,” manager Bryan Price said. “We can’t continue to come back and say we expect these guys to get significantly better to a place where we can anticipate they can take us to a postseason position.”
Some of the Reds’ offseason priorities:
HOMER & DISCO: Bailey and DeSclafani were expected to anchor the rotation, but both were injured again. Bailey had elbow surgery in February and made only 18 starts. In the last three seasons, he’s 8-13 in 26 starts with a 6.39 ERA. DeSclafani missed the season with elbow problems after being limited to 20 games last season because of a strained oblique. Neither can be counted on for a full season at this point.
THE YOUNG ONES: Sal Romano (5-8, 4.45), Robert Stephenson (5-6, 4.68) and Luis Castillo (3-7, 3.12) were among the rookies showing hints they could eventually develop into options for the rotation.
FILLING IN AROUND IGLESIAS: The Reds finally got a dependable closer, with Raisel Iglesias blowing only two chances in 29 tries and dominating right-handed batters. Now they need to fill in around him.
WHO’S AT SHORT? Zack Cozart is a free agent after making the All-Star team, batting .297 and leading all NL shortstops with 24 homers. At age 32, he’s not in Cincinnati’s long-term plans and will be difficult to replace. Jose Peraza is expected to get the chance to fill in.
SCOOTER: Claimed off waivers from Milwaukee late in spring training, Scooter Gennett provided some of the Reds’ best moments. He became the 17th major leaguer to hit four homers in a game, and he set a club record with four grand slams during the season. He and Lou Gehrig are the only players with a four-homer game and four grand slams in any season.