Tough first half for rebuilding Reds

Duvall, Bruce stand out on offense while young pitching staff struggles

Tough first half for rebuilding Reds

CINCINNATI -- The first half of the Reds' 2016 season underscored that the early stages of rebuilds are easier to plan than to play and live through. Following trades of several stars for prospects last summer and winter, Cincinnati moved forward with often messy results.

At 32-57 and mired in last in the National League Central, the Reds can only hope that the second half is an opportunity for improvement and better results. And that begins with pitching.

An already young and inexperienced rotation had its depth tested because of numerous injuries but also poor performances. Short starts meant longer gaps to be filled by the bullpen, which leads the Majors in innings pitched (325) and with 66 home runs allowed -- including 18 to the first batter faced. The results contributed to pitching coach Mark Riggins being replaced.

Put it all together and the Reds are on pace for 104 losses, which would break their all-time record of 101 set in 1982. The good news is there have been signs of improvement in both the rotation and bullpen in recent weeks, which has many optimistic the second half could be a little better.

Right fielder Jay Bruce shook off more uncertainty amid trade rumors and after poor 2014-15 seasons to rebound as one of the top left-handed power hitters in the NL, and he was named an All-Star. Adam Duvall emerged as one of the top home run hitters in the league and a surprisingly solid left fielder defensively, and he also made the All-Star team. Shortstop Zack Cozart came all the way back from 2015 reconstructive right knee surgery to have a season worthy of All-Star consideration. Pitcher Dan Straily went from waiver claim to effective starter.

Bruce's RBI single

The pitching staff has struggled mightily and is on a record-smashing pace with 154 home runs allowed. They are on pace for 280 homers, and the record is 241 (1996 Tigers). Some of the troubles were exacerbated by injuries to key young pitchers like Anthony DeSclafani, Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen. The bullpen, already exposed by shorter starts from the rotation, could not keep leads safe. Catcher Devin Mesoraco's left shoulder injury put him out for the season by late April. Until coming alive at the plate in June, Joey Votto endured the worst offensive stretch of his career during the first two months of the season.

Not so much something learned, but it has been a reminder that young prospects are not finished products. Pitchers like Brandon Finnegan, John Lamb and Cody Reed (all acquired for Johnny Cueto) have the tools to take over a game. But often they are struggling to establish their fastball for strikes, run up high pitch counts and are susceptible to walks and home runs. The only way for these pitchers to get better is to keep pitching and learn from their mistakes.

Duvall. The nod could have easily gone to Bruce, as well. But Duvall also doubles as the biggest surprise of the season as he went from obscure platoon player to first-time All-Star and T-Mobile Home Run Derby participant. He has 23 home runs, 61 RBIs and 44 extra-base hits that has him among NL leaders.

Duvall's red-hot power

Finnegan has struggled to keep the ball in the ballpark his last couple of outings, but he is the only Red to not miss a start in the first half. Despite his 4.71 ERA and 18 homers allowed in 18 starts, he took a no-hitter into the seventh inning vs. the Cubs and dueled Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers for a complete-game, 1-0 loss that helped add to his hard-luck status.

Finnegan takes no-no into 7th

Although he has played only 25 games, Jose Peraza has the best numbers of all Reds rookies in that stretch. Peraza has work to do, but there have been glimpses of his making contact and using his speed: He has nine steals in nine attempts. The 22-year-old has also been versatile, with starts at four positions.

Peraza's RBI single

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for since 2006, and previously covered the Twins from 2001-05. Follow him on Twitter @m_sheldon and Facebook and listen to his podcast. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.