John Clay

Cincinnati Reds can expect better days ahead, just not this year

Reds second baseman Jose Peraza, left, tagged out Philadelphia’s Howie Kendrick on a steal attempt in the third inning during the host Reds’ 4-3 loss to the Phillies on Monday.
Reds second baseman Jose Peraza, left, tagged out Philadelphia’s Howie Kendrick on a steal attempt in the third inning during the host Reds’ 4-3 loss to the Phillies on Monday. Associated Press

For much of Monday, it was a rainy opening day for the Cincinnati Reds at Great American Ballpark. Finally, by about the sixth inning, the sun poked through.

That’s a probable metaphor for what the Reds hope is to come.

Once rebuilding runs its course, sunshine should flood Major League Baseball’s franchise across the Ohio River. The light won’t come this year, however. Expect frustrations and pack your patience. Monday brought the first example as loss No. 1 came 4-3 by way of the Philadelphia Phillies. More will follow.

That said, the Reds’ plan is actually a good one for the long term. The Reds were past due a rebuild when owner Bob Castellini gave the green light before last season. Bye-bye went familiar names Johnny Cueto, Mike Leake, Todd Frazier, Aroldis Chapman and Jay Bruce. Brandon Phillips was dealt to his home-state Braves this winter.

The door is fully open for the new kids. Adam Duvall, acquired in the Leake deal, was an All-Star last season. Scott Schebler, acquired in the Frazier deal, is the regular right-fielder. The Phillips trade handed second base to Jose Peraza, another piece obtained for Frazier.

Young pitching is the real emphasis. Rookie Davis, acquired in the Chapman trade, is in the rotation, joined by promising rookie Amir Garrett. Additional young arms, Robert Stephenson and Cody Reed, are in the bullpen but expected to be starters soon.

In the meantime, manager Bryan Price is piecing things together. Bronson Arroyo is back with the Reds and after a brief stint at Triple A Louisville is expected to be called up and start against the Cardinals on April 8.

Journeyman Scott Feldman was Price’s opening day starter. A free agent signing over the winter, Feldman was a combined 7-4 with a 3.97 ERA in 40 games last year with Houston and Toronto. He started five games.

Philadelphia reached him early Monday. Cesar Hernandez led off the game with a line drive homer to right field. Michael Saunders’ double later in the inning gave the Phillies a 2-0 lead. Shortstop Freddy Galvis homered in the second to push Philadelphia’s advantage to 3-0. Feldman settled down after that and kept it close.

“We got Scott to stabilize the staff,” Price said afterward. “He kept us in the game.”

Unfortunately, Reds’ bats found Phillies’ starter Jeremy Hellickson tougher. The home team left the bases loaded in the fourth. Duvall led off the sixth with a double but was stranded at second base. Newcomer Scooter Gennett, a Cincinnati native, hit a two-run homer with two out in the ninth, but it was too little too late. Billy Hamilton flied out out to make the Phillies 1-0.

“It was a really good finish,” Price said, “unfortunately not a great finish.”

This doesn’t mean the Reds will be a total 2017 bore. In fact, we die-hards will find interest in the many questions to be answered. Was Duvall a fluke in 2016? Will Peraza prove to be the real deal at the plate? How long before Cozart is traded to make way for a Peraza move to shortstop so Dilson Herrera, acquired in the Bruce deal, can take over second base? Can Schebler capitalize on his strong finish to 2016?

Can the Reds resist rushing the organization’s top prospect, former Tennessee third baseman Nick Senzel? Fangraphs ranks the Reds’ No. 1 draft pick in 2016 as the 30th best prospect in all the majors. He’s the future. Or the start of the future.

So are the arms. Fangraphs’ prospect list ranks Garrett at No. 65. Davis turned in a strong spring. Despite last season’s struggles, Reed is highly regarded by the organization. Stephenson is a former No. 1 draft pick. And the Reds believe there are other top pitching prospects on the way.

Just not right away. The Reds lost 98 games in 2015. They lost 94 last year. A goal of 90 losses is reasonable for 2017 while, on the bright side, the Reds search for rays of hope.

Next game

Phillies at Reds

7:10 p.m. Wednesday (FS Ohio)

Starting pitchers: Brandon Finnegan (Reds) vs. Jerad Eickhoff (Phillies)

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