Tale of two seasons for rebuilding Reds in '16

Injuries ravaged pitching staff, but Votto led impressive second-half turnaround

Tale of two seasons for rebuilding Reds in '16

CINCINNATI -- When rebuilds commence in earnest for a club like it did for the Reds in 2016, it often seems like an abstract idea that a team will sacrifice wins in the present to get better and stronger to contend in the future.

When it actually is happening, however, the highs are less frequent and the lows are extended while the resolve of the fans is tested. It's not always easy for the players on the field as well.

Cincinnati's troubles at the start of the season were exasperated by a rash of Spring Training injuries. Much of the expected rotation opened the year on the disabled list -- including Anthony DeSclafani, Michael Lorenzen and a little later, Raisel Iglesias. The depth of the bullpen was thin and its inability to find any traction made defining roles nearly impossible for manager Bryan Price.

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It all culminated in the pitching staff setting a new single-season record in home runs allowed while leading the league in walks.

"I thought we would really prove a lot of doubters wrong," second baseman Brandon Phillips said. "We had a lot of people hurt at the beginning -- Lorenzen, Iglesias, Disco and those guys. It would have been nice to have those guys at the beginning of the season. I think the season would have been totally different. It happened. It's just one of those tough years again. The last three years we've had a losing record. It's been real tough.

"I know it's been really hard on Reds fans. I feel like we let our city down, but I feel like the second half when we got those guys back, the organization is moving in the right direction as far as getting back to the winning side of baseball."

Must C: Phillips' crafty flip

The Reds played above .500 for much of the second half and provided an optimistic glimpse of the results the Reds hope this rebuild will bring.

Most importantly for the future, several of the younger players gained big league experience that the Reds hope will make everybody better.

"I've always had the mindset of win or learn," Lorenzen said. "When you're going through trials or times when everything isn't going your way, the best thing you can is learn from it. … It's all perspective and how you want to take it. Do you want to take it as a losing season because we didn't win? Or, do you want to take it as a season that taught us a lot about ourselves individually and as a team? If we take it that way, we can do some very good things."

Record: 68-94, fifth place in NL Central.

Defining moment: Plagued by the long ball and walks throughout 2016, the Reds' pitching staff set the single-season record for home runs allowed vs. the Cubs on Sept. 19. But, no one game defined the season more than an 11-8 loss to Chicago on June 27 at Great American Ball Park. Kris Bryant went 5-for-5 and became the first modern player with three home runs and two doubles in a game. The Cubs hit five homers overall, something that happened to Reds pitchers a Major League-record nine times this season.

Must C: Bryant's three home runs

What went right: There were several bright spots in the lineup, perhaps none more encouraging than the improvement shown by Billy Hamilton. The center fielder proved he belongs at the top of the lineup as he surged in the second half, batting .293 with a .369 on-base percentage until an oblique strain prematurely ended his season on Sept. 4. Hamilton also once again demonstrated great defense and is deserving of his first Gold Glove Award.

Statcast: Hamilton's great grab

Among the tenured veterans, Joey Votto enjoyed another historic second half and Phillips overcame a slew of nagging injuries to have a nice overall season at 35 years old. Shortstop Zack Cozart rebounded from reconstructive right knee surgery and got off to a hot start, eventually setting a career high in homers. Cozart also played exceptional defense.

In a rebuilding season, several of the Reds' younger players took steps in the right direction. Playing third base for the first time in the Majors, Eugenio Suarez showed growth at the position while also becoming a power threat at the plate.

Left fielder Adam Duvall emerged with a breakout year and became a first-time All-Star with a 30-homer season. Duvall tailed off in the second half but will have something to build on. He also played nice defense at a position where he lacked experience.

Statcast: Duvall's hard-hit HR

After Jay Bruce was traded to the Mets on Aug. 1, Scott Schebler stepped in as the right fielder and showed he can be a regular despite getting off to a slow start. Devin Mesoraco missed most of the season with another injury, but Tucker Barnhart stepped up and impressed as the everyday catcher in his place.

On the pitching side, Brandon Finnegan likely put to rest questions of whether he's a starter or reliever by completing the whole season in the rotation. Although he was prone to homers and walks, the club liked how he competed and believes he will get better with improved pitch efficiency.

Iglesias was the Opening Day starter but emerged as a potential closer when a shoulder injury prompted a move to the bullpen. Lorenzen, who got a late start because of an elbow injury, also provided a jolt to the bullpen.

What went wrong: Perhaps no area of the club magnified the shortcomings of the team more than the bullpen, which led the Majors in home runs and walks allowed by large margins. In fact, Reds relievers broke the 1964 Kansas City A's single-season record for homers allowed by a bullpen. J.J. Hoover, who allowed nine of those homers and is also the club's all-time leader in grand slams surrendered, backfired after opening the season as closer and is no longer even on the 40-man roster.

"We did really nothing to address the bullpen. We knew that we were limited and because of the rebuild, we didn't have the finances to put toward the bullpen, so it was a completely makeshift bullpen, no defined roles," Price said. "Our record didn't dictate that, but our holes that were here were obvious and I was just hoping that we could fill them, and we couldn't until we got healthy."

Baez's grand slam

The season got off on the wrong foot when several starters in the projected rotation opened the season on the disabled list. Iglesias would join them later with a shoulder injury. Shorter starts by the replacements further taxed the already creaky bullpen. The rotation spent most of the season ranked last in innings pitched.

Mesoraco sustained a torn labrum in his non-throwing left shoulder and later had surgery to fix the labrum in his right hip. This came after he missed most of 2015 with a torn labrum in his left hip. Mesoraco was limited to a combined 39 games -- including 18 starts behind the plate -- over the past two seasons.

Biggest surprise: Pitcher Dan Straily was a Reds waiver claim after Spring Training ended and had been with three clubs in one week. Initially slated to be a long reliever, Straily was plugged into the injury-riddled and performance-depleted rotation and finished 2016 as the team leader in wins and quality starts.

Straily records 11 strikeouts

Hitter of the year: Votto got off to a slow start for the second straight year, but he opened 2016 in an even deeper hole than usual, batting .213 through May 31. The former MVP began clicking after that and finished the year above .300 for the season and once again had one of the best post-All-Star break hitting performances in history.

Votto's four-hit birthday

Pitcher of the year: DeSclafani helped stabilize the rotation when he returned from an oblique injury in June and might have better numbers if projected over a whole season. But Straily gets the nod because he was healthy and actually did post his strong numbers over the entire year.

DeSclafani's first MLB shutout

Rookie of the year: Jose Peraza played sparingly over his first two callups, including one that stretched six weeks. But after he returned from Triple-A Louisville on Aug. 20 as an injury replacement for Cozart and Hamilton, Peraza was among the best hitters in baseball down the stretch while playing good defense at four different positions.

Peraza's four-hit performance

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.