MLB.com Columnist

Barry M. Bloom

Reds' pitching decisions coming down to the wire

Club using Minor League games to evaluate arms further

Reds' pitching decisions coming down to the wire

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- Reds manager Bryan Price said on Sunday morning that the state of his pitching staff at this stage of Spring Training is unprecedented in his long career as a pitching coach and skipper.

Ditto Dick Williams, long involved with the organization as a baseball executive and in his first year as general manager.

"It's new for me in recent years," Williams said.

With the season opener at home against the Phillies a week away, Price has a new closer (J.J. Hoover), hasn't officially named an Opening Day starter and has no idea what the makeup is yet of either the five-man rotation or rest of the bullpen.

There's a lot of inexperience, more than the fair share of injuries, and not enough time left to stretch out most of the starters.

"The whole nine yards," said Price, a pitching coach with the Mariners, D-backs and Reds before taking over as manager two years ago for the dismissed Dusty Baker.

Has Price ever seen anything like it?

"No, I haven't, unfortunately," he said. "Yeah, it's odd."

In even more unprecedented fashion, Price said on Sunday that he's taking the step of rearranging his starting pitching for the final four days of Cactus League action, moving three kids back from the Minor League camp to start the next three games.

Robert Stephenson will start on Monday night against the Brewers in Goodyear; A.J. Morris will go against Milwaukee on Tuesday at Maryvale Baseball Park; Josh Smith gets the White Sox on Wednesday back in Goodyear, and Brandon Finnegan is slated to go against the Indians on Thursday. But Finnegan's slot could still change.

Meanwhile, Jon Moscot has been moved from the Cactus League game on Monday to pitch in Minor League camp that day. He's facing live batters for the first time since suffering an intercostal strain on March 8.

Raisel Iglesias is slated to pitch Wednesday in Minor League camp after lasting only three innings in his start Friday against the Rockies.

The reason for all this is simple and speaks loudly to the state of the staff. In these Minor League games, half-innings can be extended, pitches added. Not so in the Cactus League.

"Pitching them in a Minor League game gives us more flexibility," Williams said.

"We're going to do a few things here down the stretch because of the need, for example, of some of our guys to get stretched out," Price said. "They can get five or six ups and downs where we really need to get them out there for the innings. As much as the pitches are important, getting up and down, regenerating the arm, is a big part of the reconditioning program.

"You can't guarantee that in big league games. And so some of our guys are going to be pitching their last starts in a Minor League environment just to guarantee that."

Even Finnegan could be moved to a Minor League game, Price said about the left-hander, who was lifted with one out in the fourth inning against the White Sox on Saturday after allowing seven runs on seven hits.

"He threw pitches, but he didn't get the chance to get up and down into the fifth," Price said.

The Reds break camp on Thursday after playing the Indians at Goodyear Ballpark, play a pair of exhibition games on Friday and Saturday against the Pirates at Indianapolis, and then open the season at Great American Ball Park on April 4.

It is no wonder everyone is becoming a little anxious.

"I think there will be more clarity here over the course of the next three days or so," Price said. "Believe me, I have my opinions already, and we're gathering all of our thoughts collectively."

"Internally, we feel really good about where we are and we have the pitchers preparing for what they should be preparing for," Williams added.

Hoover is replacing the departed Aroldis Chapman as closer and Anthony DeSclafani will probably start the opener, but everywhere in between there are big question marks.

Michael Lorenzen (sore right elbow) and Homer Bailey (recovering from Tommy John surgery last May 8), will begin the season on the disabled list.

Alfredo Simon and Ross Ohlendorf, signed in camp as free agents, are being integrated into the system late.

Simon throws an eephus

Ryan Mattheus, Pedro Villarreal and Tim Melville are non-roster pitchers fighting for spots and are all very much on the bubble.

It's no wonder that many of these decisions may come down to the wire when all Major League teams have to submit 25-man rosters in the hours before their openers.

"We went through something like this in 2006 and '07, and then we went through a period of stability," Williams said. "Now there's a lot of opportunity. I think it's the youngest camp we've had in a while, and that just opens up a lot of possibilities. We knew coming in that we needed to be reactionary to how the camp unfolded.

"We're going to be patient with these guys and it's exciting to see, but that means there aren't that many spots that have been promised."

To that point, Price was asked during his morning media session whether he had privately informed any of his players that they had made the team.

"I told Joey. Joey, Brandon and Jay are on," Price said jokingly, referring to Joey Votto, Brandon Phillips and Jay Bruce, the key remaining veteran position players. "They're on the team."

All levity aside, though ...

"Of the guys you would say that don't know for sure? We haven't," Price said.

Barry M. Bloom is a national reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, Boomskie on Baseball. Follow @boomskie on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.