The Reds have used the closing weeks of 2017 to identify young starters that can be penciled in for next year's rotation. Luis Castillo is definitely marked down, while Sal Romano has shown he might have turned the corner.
Robert Stephenson took his lumps in St. Louis on Tuesday, but he had been solid for a month, and Tyler Mahle has impressed quickly. The name that's been missing from the group of young arms making strides is Amir Garrett. In a 5-2 loss to the Cardinals on Thursday at Busch Stadium, Garrett allowed four earned runs, three hits and five walks over just four-plus innings. Three of those walks came around to score.
"They hurt, bad," Garrett said. "Walks will kill you. They turn into runs, every time. I thought I was doing well, but the walks haunt you. It's something that can't happen."
For two-plus innings, Garrett largely kept the Cardinals' lineup in check. His free pass issues began with two outs in the third after striking out four in a row. Garrett worked Tommy Pham to an 0-2 count before throwing four balls, then Paul DeJong walked. The duo executed a double steal, and Jose Martinez drove them both in with a single for a 2-1 Cardinals lead.
In the fifth, Garrett didn't retire a batter. Matt Carpenter walked on five pitches before Pham hit a two-run homer. DeJong's second walk brought the outing to an end.
"You see guys that go up and down in every level, that's because in large part, you're trying to find that 'it' factor that gets you to be able to play the game the same way that you would play it at any other place," Reds manager Bryan Price told reporters. "But this just isn't any other place. This is where these guys want to be. This is where they want to stay."
Garrett began the season in the Majors, but was sent down to Triple-A Louisville following a June 20 loss at Tampa Bay. Going back to that first big league stint, the Reds have lost each of Garrett's past eight starts. He's 0-6 with an 11.20 ERA during that span; his last MLB victory was May 6.
"For two or three years, he's been the best pitcher in our system," Price said. "I think sometimes it's getting over the hump.
"It takes a little while to get their footing up here, and what you don't want to do is get to a point where you don't appreciate what you see in front of you even if it's not the finished product and continue to work with it until it becomes the finished product."
Garrett had a 1.83 ERA over his first three starts, but he hasn't been able to maintain that pace throughout the season. At Triple-A Louisville, he had a 5.72 ERA in 14 starts, though he allowed only 24 walks compared to 61 strikeouts over 67 2/3 innings.
In the big leagues, Garrett has allowed 36 walks in 67 1/3 innings.
"It's something I've got to deal with and get past it," Garrett said. "It's been a long season. I don't anticipate walks being a problem next year or going forward."
Normally, callups into the rotation are for merit, but the Reds wanted to see if Garrett could take his streamlined mechanics and increased velocity and make progress in the big leagues.
"He's trying to get to a point where his arm can work for him consistently and get to the right spot so he can repeat good pitches," Price told reporters. "He's a work in progress."
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.