It was 12:45 p.m. on Saturday and Bryan Price was sitting in his office inside the Reds’ clubhouse and the manager was smiling, which might come as a surprise to anyone who has followed the struggles of Cincinnati’s season.
After a rain-delayed 6-3 victory over the Washington Nationals on Saturday night, the Reds are 21-35. Their winning percentage of .375 is the franchise’s worst since the 1937 Reds went 56-98. They own the worst bullpen in Major League Baseball — via a 6.53 ERA — and it’s not even close. They’ve been hurt by injuries.
And yet, if you look hard enough, somewhere amid the darkness there are rays of hope.
Homer Bailey threw a bullpen session before Saturday’s game. The veteran right-hander missed almost all of last season after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He has yet to pitch this year, his comeback suffering a recent setback. By all reports, however, Saturday’s outing went well and Bailey could be ready for a rehab start (or two) in Louisville and then back to the big leagues.
Also Saturday, Anthony DeSclafani was to make what is hoped to be his final rehab start with Louisville. Acquired in the Mat Latos trade before 2015, DeScalfani showed promise a year ago, going 9-13 with a 4.05 ERA. He strained his oblique before the start of this season and has yet to pitch a game with the big club.
“The initial thought was to take a good hard look after this start to see if he was ready to join this club,” Price said Saturday. “It’s a possibility for sure.”
Meanwhile, the big club has started to play a little better. They have won five of their last six, including a 7-2 victory over Washington on Friday night that spoiled the return of former Reds manager Dusty Baker.
Yes, it has been a long time coming. No, the Reds could not have played much worse. After trading Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Todd Frazier and Aroldis Chapman, people knew this was the start of a major Reds rebuilding process. Everyone knew the Reds would be bad. And then, of course, everyone has complained that, boy, the Reds sure are bad.
There is a method to the madness, however. A few of the new pieces are starting to produce. Adam Duvall, a 27-year-old from Louisville acquired along with pitcher Keury Mella (A-ball) in exchange for Leake making eight starts with the Giants, has hit 16 homers and driven in 35 while winning the left-field job.
Brandon Finnegan, a 23-year-old acquired along with John Lamb and Cody Reed from Kansas City in the Cueto deal, has a 3.89 ERA after 12 starts. Last time out, the 25-year-old Lamb allowed just one run over seven innings at Colorado. The 23-year-old Reed is 4-3 with a 3.31 ERA at Louisville despite giving up five runs over five innings on Friday — his worst start of the season.
Word is Reed could be in Cincinnati soon, as could Robert Stephenson, the 23-year-old right-handed starter who was the team’s first-round pick, No. 27 overall, in 2011. Stephenson is 3-3 with a 3.86 ERA at Louisville and has made a couple of starts with the Reds, giving up four earned runs in 12 innings. Then there’s Cuban defector Raisel Iglesias. Injured after five starts, he is now rehabbing in Arizona.
A better rotation, one capable of going deeper into games, would take the pressure off an overworked and inferior pen. The Reds’ bullpen ranked 22nd in the major last season, and that was with Chapman. Now Chapman is a Yankee and the Reds have been reeling. When a media member mentioned Saturday that Reds reliever Blake Wood had not allowed a homer all year, Price interrupted with, “There you go. Thanks a lot for that.”
Everyone laughed, something that might not have been the case a week or so ago. True, only the Atlanta Braves and Minnesota Twins have more losses than the Reds, but this is a rebuild. And this is what a rebuild looks like: pain with a hint and hope of better days ahead.
Worst Cincinnati Reds teams
By winning percentage
1934: 52-99 for .343
1937: 56-98 for .364
2016: 21-35 for .375
1901: 52-87 for .374
1931: 58-96 for .377
1982: 61-101 for .377