By HAL McCOY
An accurate, forthright and honest opinion from Cincinnati Reds broadcaster Jeff Brantley, a former major league closer who knows pitching from A to Z: “I have seen no improvement at all from last year to this year from the young starting pitchers. None.”
While that won’t go down easy in the Reds front office, the truth is painful and it should grab their attention.
If a team is in a rebuild, it has to start with starting pitching and improvement, even if gradual. It is a necessity. And with the Reds, as Brantley said, “It just ain’t happening.”
With less than two weeks remaining in the 2018 season, the Reds are no closer to establishing any semblance of a starting rotation for next season than they were on Opening Day.
Exhibit A took the mound Tuesday night against the Milwaukee Brewers, an extremely important game for the contending Brewers and a meaningless game for the last place Reds.
Relief pitcher Michael Lorenzen, who hadn’t started a game all season but spent the year begging for the opportunity, started Tuesday night in Miller Park.
Lorenzen hadn’t pitched more than four innings all year and hadn’t started a game since his rookie season of 2015.
So, in effect, knowing that Lorenzen wouldn’t go more than four, this was a bullpen game, much like what the Tampa Rays are doing so successfully, starting a relief pitcher.
It works for them and on Tuesday night it worked for the Reds. Lorenzen was as good as any starting pitcher for the Reds has been this year.
He held the hard-hitting Brewers to no earned runs and one hit over four innings and the rest of the bullpen took it from there for a 3-1 victory, a crippling defeat for the Brewers.
Lorenzen showed the starters how it is done — only 52 pitches over his four innings, 36 for strikes.
After Lorenzen, Sal Romano pitched 2 1/3 innings and gave up no runs and two hits. Amir Garrett faced two hitters and retired both, David Hernandez pitched a perfect eighth.
That left it up to closer Raisel Iglesias to finish it and he walked Curtis Granderson to open the ninth. Then he struck out the side, getting Christian Yelich, pinch-hitter Domingo Santana and finishing the game by striking out Hernan Perez on three pitches, the last a 97 miles an hour fast ball for his 28th save.
And for his effort, Lorenzen will get start No. 2 Sunday in Miami against the Marlins. And isn’t it time to give Lorenzen the chance he wants, an opportunity to be in next season’s starting rotation?
“He had a lot of bullets left when he came out and it was nice to see how fresh he still was,” said manager Jim Riggleman in his post-game interview with Fox Sports Ohio. “We wanted to limit him to 50 to 60 pitches.”
Lorenzen, whose biceps stretch the sleeves of his uniform, was one happy pitcher after the game, even though he didn’t get the win because he didn’t pitch five innings. That plum was plucked by Sal Romano.
“I had a great time out there and I know Jim wanted me to go another inning,” said Lorenzen. “But under the circumstances he had to take me out. I was totally in agreement with it and we got the win and that’s what is important.
“I was able to get ahead and then expand the strike zone,” he said. “When Jim told me yesterday what my pitch count would be, I said, ‘Man, everything I throw has to be over the plate.’ That was my approach, get ahead early in the count and make sure I was attacking.
“I asked Jim (after the fourth) to let me go back out and he said, “I’d like to let you, but I just can’t do it.’”
Scott Schebler, who never saw a first pitch he didn’t like, opened the game by hitting Milwaukee starter Chase Anderson’s first pitch for a single. Schebler is hitting .350 when he swings at the first pitch.
That brought up Jose Peraza and he quickly made it 2-0 by ripping his 13th home run over the left field wall, the 30th home run given up by Anderson.
The Brewers scored their unearned run in the second when Lorenzen hit Travis Shaw with a pitch. Shaw moved to second on a ground ball and scored on Jonathan Schoop’s single, Shaw limping home when right fielder Schebler bobbled the ball hit by Schoop for an error.
The game’s final run scored in the fourth when Brandon Dixon walked on a full count with one out and Schebler doubled up the left field gap to make it 3-1.
However, Scooter Gennett went 0 for 4 and Milwaukee’s Christian Yelich went 1 for 4 and took the batting average lead away from Gennett, .317 to .316.