Reds short on starting pitchers down stretch

Stephenson to get more work; Bailey may return on Sunday

Reds short on starting pitchers down stretch

CHICAGO -- Down the stretch last season, the Reds limped to the finish in part because they had to play a Major League record 64 straight games with a rookie starting pitcher to end the year. The end of this season won't be close to that unenviable situation, but manager Bryan Price is still in a surprising position for September of having to fill more spots than he currently has available starters.

Three rookies faced the team with the best record in the Majors and all resulted in losses. Robert Stephenson lasted just 3 2/3 lackluster innings with four runs allowed and threw 98 pitches during a 9-2 loss to the Cubs on Wednesday night.

In six games since Saturday, which was a doubleheader vs. the Pirates, the Reds have had four starts last fewer than five innings. One of those games -- Tuesday's 6-1 loss -- was started by long reliever Josh Smith.

"It's September and we've got a long relief guy making a spot start. It's the environment we're in," Price said.

With 10 games left, there are some question marks on who makes some starts for the Reds. Sunday's starter against the Brewers is still TBA, which could mark the return of Homer Bailey from right biceps tenderness that's kept him out since Aug. 28. If Bailey doesn't start, it could be Brandon Finnegan or Tim Adleman.

There is one series left that has ramifications for the postseason -- four games at St. Louis that begins on Monday. There's a chance three of the Reds' best starters -- Finnegan, Anthony DeSclafani and Dan Straily -- will be on the mound as the Cardinals vie for one of the two National League Wild Card spots.

If he's not used on Sunday, Finnegan could conceivably pitch on Monday. Stephenson is in line for Tuesday with DeSclafani and a 13-game winner in Straily for the final two games.

"Oh yeah, he's in our rotation," Price said of Stephenson, who has a 6.30 ERA in his last four starts. "As you guys know, we don't have a ton of options. Even if we did, Robert is here to pitch unless we got to a point where we have to decrease his workload."

If Bailey is healthy, he will likely get two more starts before the season ends. Finnegan is assured of getting one final start before being shut down. But if Bailey can't pitch at all, the Reds might have to improvise during the final three-game home series vs. the Cubs. While Adleman will certainly be in the mix, another spot start for Keyvius Sampson or Smith is possible.

When rosters expanded on Sept. 1, the Reds made the organizational decision not to call up starters such as prospects Amir Garrett, Rookie Davis or Sal Romano. Cody Reed was slated for bullpen duty, but he couldn't pitch because of lower back spasms.

"Some of the guys we anticipated being able to pitch like Homer, haven't gotten there to this point," Price said. "It's put us in a situation to have to make -- I don't want to say desperate moves -- but moves that if you knew you were going to have to make beforehand, the decisions we made organizationally would have been different. So we just go about our business with what we have and we'll do that for the next [10] games."

Mark Sheldon has covered the Reds for MLB.com 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.