Injuries Slowing Down Excitement About Reds’ Season

By Hal McCoy

The Cincinnati Reds Opening Day roster that was on paper a few weeks ago turned out to be tissue paper.

What fans will see on Opening Day Thursday in Great American Ball Park against the Washington Nationals isn’t exactly what manager David Bell and President of Baseball Operations Nick Krall envisioned.

The inevitable injury bug took a large bite out of what the Reds planned for their 26-man roster for Cincinnati’s pomp and circumstance of Opening Day.

Center fielder T.J. Friedl broke his wrist diving for a ball during an exhibition game and is out indefinitely.

Pitcher Brandon Williamson was thought to be part of the pitching rotation but is bench-ridden with shoulder issues.

Second baseman Matt McLain has pain in his non-throwing shoulder. He is getting a second opinion on how serious the matter might be, but Bell said he will start the season on the injured list. There is the possibility of surgery.

Third baseman Noel Marte tested positive for a PED and was suspended for 80 games.

Young Edwin Arroyo was a sensation at shortstop this spring, but was optioned out. And any thoughts of bringing him back was erased when he underwent season-ending shoulder surgery last week.

All this has forced Krall and his staff to do some quick late-spring scrambling.

The plan to start the season was to have Will 
Benson and Jake Fraley share right field, even though both bat lefthanded.

That plan was scuttled with Friedl’s injury and Bell’s counter move is to place Benson in center field.

Nick Lodolo, slowed all spring by lingering pain from off-season shoulder surgery and a tibia injury, is expected to start the season on the injured list.

But the Reds are hopeful he will be ready to pitch at the end of the rotation when his turn arrives April 10 against the Milwaukee Brewers.

With McLain non-functional, it is expected that Jonathan India will slide back into his second base spot, where he was named National League Rookie of the Year in 2021. But with the emergence last season of McLain while India was on the injured list, the grand plan was for McLain to play second while India performed DH duty and roamed around at different positions as a utility player.

But to fully cover Mclain’s absence, Krall grabbed his cell phone and quickly made a deal with the Toronto Blue Jays for infielder Santiago Espinol.

Espinol was an American League All-Star in 2022 and hit .263 with seven homers and 51 runs batted in. But his role was reduced last season, only 93 games, and he hit .248 with two homers and 25 RBI.

Marte’s suspension most likely means that free agent signee Jeimer Candelario will slide into third base and give more playing time at first base to Christian Encarnacion-Strand.

So where does that leave the Reds for able-bodied participants on Opening Day?

The biggest makeover for 2024 is in the bullpen with signficant additions like Brett Suter and Emilio Pagan joining closer Alexis Diaz, Lucas Sims, Sam Moll, Buck Farmer, Fernando Cruz and Justin Wilson.

The rotation is stuffed with familiar fuzzy-cheeked young pitchers, except for the Opening Day starter, veteran free agent pick-up Frankie Montas.

He is a Myster Man. Due to shoulder issues and surgery, he appeared in only eight games the last two seasons, only 1 1/3 innings last year.

The Reds are holding their collective breaths that Montas returns to his 2021 numbers with Oakland — 32 starts, 13-9, 3.37 earned run average.

Montas will be folowed in the rotation by Hunter Greene, Graham Ashcraft, Andrew
Abbott and Nick Martinez.

Martinez is a stand-in for Lodolo and when Lodolo returns Martinez can slide into the bullpen, where he has experience.

Once again catching will b shared by Tyler Stpehenson and Luke Maile, with Stephenson the regular and Maile the back-up.

The infielders are Encarnacion-Strand, India, Elly De La Cruz, Espinol and Candelario.

The outfield will be occupied by Benson, Fraley, Spencer Steer and Stuart Fairchild. Steer also could play some third base, making room for Fairchild in left field. Fairchlld has had an extremely productive spring.

The 26th man? Hard to say after the Reds cut Tony Kemp and sent down Mike For last week.

All this, of course, comes down to avoiding more injuries because, after alll, there are still five days before the first pitch.

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