GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- For all the talk this spring about how the roles of Reds relievers will be handled at the end of games, starting pitcher Brandon Finnegan is hoping he can be the guy finishing his own outings more often.
The first and only complete game of Finnegan's career was an eight-inning loss to Clayton Kershaw and the Dodgers on May 23 at Chavez Ravine.
"The eight innings I threw last year against Kershaw was special," Finnegan said. "To go nine innings would be even better. It's baby steps. We just have to keep moving forward, that's all that matters."
Finnegan, who will make his 2017 spring debut Tuesday vs. the White Sox, still has room for growth considering he will turn only 24 on April 14. In his first full year as a starter in the big leagues last season, he was 10-11 with a 3.98 ERA over 31 starts while working 172 innings. The left-hander was above the league average with a 107 ERA+ and also had a 1.36 WHIP.
Although Finnegan had 15 quality starts of at least six innings and three earned runs or fewer allowed, he was also prone to high pitch counts and shorter outings. Thirteen of his starts were five innings or less.
"[I want to] keep competing and get to where all of my starts are six-plus innings," Finnegan said. "Just command my fastball is the main thing. I've been working on it at Spring Training. What I want to do every time I'm on the mound is compete."
Among qualified National League starters, Finnegan was fourth with an average of 16.8 pitches thrown per inning.
"With more experience, it's going to come," Reds catcher Tucker Barnhart said. "I think it's something every starter should really focus on, trying to shorten the game for the bullpen. I think a lot of it has to do with situationally, being able to limit damage.
"When you see a situation where you've given up a run and it's runners on second and third with one out, it's not necessarily trying to punch a guy out and walking him to load the bases. It's 'how can I get out of this inning limiting as much damage as possible?' That pushes guys deeper into the game."
Not all of the pitch-count issues are on Finnegan. According to Baseball Prospectus, no pitcher was harmed by poor pitch framing as much as Finnegan in 2016, with a rating of negative 7.8 runs. Barnhart was just below league-average in that category, but his backup last season, Ramon Cabrera struggled defensively. Cabrera was ranked 113th out of 114 Major League catchers with a minus 16.3 rating despite being a part-time player, and he caught 12 of Finnegan's starts.
Finnegan earned praise from the club for his tenacity and competitiveness on the mound and willingness to battle through situations. His willingness to keep battling will serve him well if he gets deeper in games more consistently.
"I just got my feet wet in the rotation," Finnegan said. "It was the first time I've ever thrown that many innings in a season. It got my arm prepared for that kind of work. I think it will help me out a lot for this year. Hopefully, I will take steps forward and have an even better season."
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.