On Friday night, the Cincinnati Reds were ahead in the seventh inning in a draw against the Milwaukee Brewers.
The Brewers had leadoff batter Christian Yelich, a former MVP and a left-handed hitter, who was scheduled to finish fourth in the inning. Should the Brewers move past Yelich in the order in the seventh inning, the Reds would have to face the rest of the Brewers’ top roster with the game on the line.
Reds manager David Bell’s plan to enter the inning was for left-handed reliever Ross Detwiler to start the inning and throw through Yelich’s place in the lineup. Next, Bell would bring in Joel Kuhnel in the tie to face the heart of the Brewers order.
Neither player was on the Reds’ 40-man list at the start of the season. And yet, even though the Reds had the day off Thursday, Bell planned to call on Detwiler and Kuhnel with the game on the line. Detwiler allowed a solo home run to Keston Hiura, the Brewers’ ninth hitter, and suffered defeat.
Now we understand why Alexis Díaz was not in the game on Friday. The Reds placed Díaz, an All-Star candidate and clearly their top reliever, on the disabled list on Sunday with tendonitis in his right bicep.
The Reds now have seven relief pitchers on the injured list, including some of their best relief pitchers in Díaz, Lucas Sims and Tony Santillan.
Behind Díaz, the Reds don’t have a single relief pitcher who has been reliable in a high-profile role in the bullpen all season. Because of the inconsistency, Bell said he weighs factors like “hot hand” and who is throwing the ball well recently to determine who is throwing in the most leveraged situations.
“Trust is important,” Bell said. “Even at this level, it’s a big problem. Definitely the guys who are successful, you want to keep getting them out there. This is not the only consideration, there are many considerations. The health, the availability, what they’ve been up to lately, the conversations you have with the guys where you know where they’re at with their process. You take all of that into consideration.
Here’s a look at who the Reds currently have in the bullpen and how they factored in Bell’s plans to manage the group.
Cessa was one of Bell’s most reliable relievers in 2021, and he entered 2022 as a favorite to use in the bigger roles early in the season. Cessa was not given consistent work in high leverage situations as the Reds started the year 3-22 and played in so many blowouts, and his role dwindled as he struggled in may.
In May, Cessa posted a 6.75 ERA and was relegated to throwing in low leverage situations. After suffering a loss on May 21, Cessa pitched in low leverage situations in five of his next six games.
Cessa is now at the other end of that tunnel and has recently been used as a top backup option behind Díaz.
On Friday, Cessa would pitch the 10th inning if the game had gone to extra innings. He has a 3.52 ERA in June with 10 strikeouts and three walks. In his last four outings, Cessa has two catches and a win.
No Reds relief pitcher has moved up the bullpen depth chart faster than Kuhnel. He entered spring training as a longshot to contribute in 2022, and he was not on the 40-man roster. He has a 3.12 ERA with 18 strikeouts and three walks, and no pitcher embodies Bell’s “hot hand” strategy better than Kuhnel.
Kuhnel’s role began to change on June 10 when he pitched a dominant eighth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals to lower his ERA to 2.57. While Kuhnel missed the save the next day, Bell said he let Kuhnel throw too deep into play and leaned too heavily on Kuhnel at that time.
Bell showed his continued faith in Kuhnel with the way he used Kuhnel in high leverage situations in each of his next two outings. In Friday’s loss to the Milwaukee Brewers, Kuhnel was lined up to pitch in a seventh-inning tie before Ross Detwiler allowed a homer. He still pitched the eighth inning of a game the Reds were leading by one run.
With the way Hunter Strickland has been used lately, it looks like Cessa and Kuhnel have recently skipped Strickland as well as Art Warren on the bullpen depth chart.
In May, Strickland had a 2.38 ERA and pitched in crucial situations outside the bullpen, including a stoppage against the Cubs and back-to-back strikes in close games against the Giants and Red Sox. In June, Strickland started the month by allowing six runs in his first three appearances.
He was very reliant on his fastball and struggled the most when his drive was inconsistent. Strickland still has a big role, winning a stoppage last Monday and pitching the ninth inning of a one-run game last Friday because the Reds bullpen was shorthanded on both counts.
Most of his recent opportunities in high-leverage situations have come when the options available to him are either already in use or unavailable.
It’s usually clear very quickly in a raised appearance whether or not Warren has his best deals on any given day. He often sets the tone by starting a relief appearance with a walk or strikeout.
Warren pitched almost exclusively in high-leverage situations in May, but that changed after allowing four runs in a May 29 bullpen meltdown against the Giants. He got back into the high-leverage mix last week when the Reds’ bullpen was shorthanded, and he got a few game-changing strikeouts with runners on base in close games against the Cardinals and the Diamondbacks.
That success gave him a chance to pitch the eighth inning of a tie last Wednesday, but he allowed four runs in the eighth inning against Arizona and took the loss.
Reiver Sanmartin and Ross Detwiler
The Reds have two left-handed relievers in the bullpen — a rookie who had never been a relief pitcher in professional baseball before this month and a 14-year-old journeyman.
Sanmartin and Detwiler each pitched in high leverage situations last week, and Detwiler suffered the loss on Friday against the Brewers after allowing a solo home run. While no pitcher is meant to become a true setup reliever, Bell targets spots in the opposing team’s lineup that have left-handed hitters for Sanmartin or Detwiler to contend with.
Although they will both face mostly left-handed hitters in the short term, the hope is that Sanmartin will adjust to his new role in the bullpen and become a more consistent reliever with a bigger role in the future. . Sanmartin’s recent results between Triple-A and MLB as a reliever have given Bell increased confidence to place Sanmartin in higher leverage spots.
Jeff Hoffman and Dauri Moreta
Even though Hoffman has a 2.87 ERA, he’s only pitched “late and close” four games all season. In those four games, opposing hitters have a .375 batting average and a .944 OPS.
Hoffman was at his best in a long mid-inning relief role. While the combination of his fastball and splitter make him one of the most impressive talents in the Reds’ bullpen, his command hasn’t been consistent enough to win him more high-spin innings. of leverage.
The Reds promoted Moreta from Triple-A on Sunday and opted for outfielder TJ Friedl in Triple-A. Moreta entered Sunday with a 9.88 ERA on the season after spending the first month of the season in MLB and the second month in Triple-A. During his first streak in the Reds’ bullpen this season, Moreta threw in low leverage situations.