For the second consecutive year, the Cincinnati Reds entered Spring Training looking for someone to fill the fifth spot in their starting rotation. Last season, the competition was between Micah Owings and Homer Bailey, with Owings ultimately winning the job. However, it was Bailey that eventually took a firm grip on a spot in the rotation as he finished the season strong and rekindled the optimism that once hovered over the young right-hander.
In his final nine starts of 2009, Bailey was 6-1 with a 1.70 earned run average and 53 strikeouts. His last two starts resulted in him being named the National League Player of the Week for the final week of the season.
Despite back-to-back disappointing seasons, Aaron Harang was selected by Dusty Baker to start on Opening Day. Harang’s status as the ace of the pitching staff is hanging by a thread. Over the past two seasons, he has shown flashes of being the dominating starter he once was, but the occurrences were too few and far between.
Harang’s name has come up when fans and members of the media speculate about possible trades. Trading Harang now would be a bad idea for two reasons. First, his value has never been lower due to the recent poor performance. The other reason is the absence of Edinson Volquez. With Volquez out until at least after the All-Star break, the Reds cannot afford to lose another veteran starting pitcher.
In 2009, Bronson Arroyo made 33 starts and logged 220.1 innings. It marked the sixth consecutive season in which he has started more than 30 games. After a rough start and bout with carpal tunnel syndrome, Arroyo put together an excellent second half. He finished the year making 12 consecutive starts in which he pitched at least seven innings and gave up three runs or fewer. Hopefully, Arroyo will be able to maintain that success throughout the majority of the 2010 season.
The Reds are hoping that a little rest and relaxation during the offseason will have Johnny Cueto ready to roll in April. Prior to the 2009 season, Cueto pitched in winter ball and the World Baseball Classic.
He started last season strong, began to struggle and ended up on the disabled list with inflammation in his shoulder. The rest seemed to help, as he posted a 3-1 record and 3.63 ERA in his final six starts.
I feel comfortable beginning the year with a front four of Harang, Arroyo, Cueto and Bailey. However, it is the fifth spot that has everyone in Reds Country buzzing. Mark Sheldon does an excellent job of breaking down the competition on his blog.
I do not expect Kip Wells or Justin Lehr to win the job. If you must have someone with Major League experience, go with Matt Maloney for the simple fact that he is left-handed. However, neither of the three have performed exceptionally well this spring.
If I were running the show, Owings would be my long reliever. He hasn’t exactly set the world on fire this spring either, but his ability to swing the bat is a valuable resource. It is almost like having an extra player when you can call down to the bullpen during the eighth inning for a pinch hitter.
That leaves us with Travis Wood, Mike Leake and Aroldis Chapman. Wood and Leake have both been very good so far. Chapman has been excellent. He has lived up to the hype and then some. His control seemed to be an area of concern coming into camp, but he has shown tremendous poise and maturity when on the mound.
A tough decision will have to be made in the next two weeks.
Image from Team Doster.
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