Major League Baseball is back. The new 60-game season means that teams have to come ready to play, as every game could matter. The Cincinnati Reds have started off slowly which could hurt them. Here are four mistakes the Reds have made to start the season.
1. Allowing Derek Dietrich to Use His Release Clause
Before the season started, Derek Dietrich was left off the 30-man roster, which allowed him to utilize a release clause in his contract. While cutting a player on a Minor League contract doesn’t seem like a big deal, it was.
Hitting .187 last season didn’t help Dietrich, but he did bring some power to the team with 19 home runs. The reason that the Reds needed him on the team is because of his versatility and energy. He played multiple positions for the Reds in 2019 and likely could have played a similar role for the team, especially with rosters expanding to 30 players. Teams can be great, but it is hard to win when the locker room is uptight. Sometimes a team needs a player that can lift weights in the dugout before the game, stare his home runs down and even take care of a bee problem at the stadium.
When things started going poorly after their Opening Day Game, Dietrich could’ve kept other players loose and even maybe hit a pinch-hit home run, something he excelled at early in 2019. It could have done wonders, as a lot of the players have looked too uptight in the first few games of the season.
2. Pulling Nick Castellanos in the First Game
The Reds were leading the Tigers 7-1 in their Opening Day Game when Nicholas Castellanos, their new signee, was pulled from the game for a pinch-runner, Travis Jankowski, by manager David Bell. This may have been innocent enough, as the Reds had secured the lead, but Castellanos was upset. He channeled that frustration into extra practice, as he stayed after the game and caught fly balls in his uniform. Castellanos even showed up early to the next game to get in more practice.
Bell had a conversation with Castellanos following the game and it seemed like he understood where Castellanos was coming from. Either way, that should have been something talked about before the season. The Reds have a deep team so it is tough to get everyone playing time, but Castellanos’ role should have been more clear from the start.
Morale and team chemistry are more of a factor than people like to admit and having one of the star players upset after the first game of a postponed season is alarming (especially because he has an opt-out clause in his contract after one season). With the DH now being in the NL, Bell’s biggest jobs are keeping the morale high and managing the bullpen. So far, he has failed in those regards.
3. Bullpen Use
Bell has also misused the bullpen in a variety of ways already this season. To start, he tried using Raisel Iglesias in a non-save situation in the second game of the season, something he is not good at. Iglesias is to blame for his performance, especially because he had a rough season in 2019, but Bell is at fault for not knowing his bullpen and using them to the best of their abilities.
Michael Lorenzen had a tough day against the Tigers in the second game of the season. He pitched 0.2 innings and gave up a home run to Miguel Cabrera. What was so bad about it was that it was a changeup that he missed high with. Cabrera got his bat around and crushed it. Missing that bad with a changeup or choosing to throw that changeup is inexcusable. Bell chose to run Lorenzen back out on the mound the next day, even with the expanded rosters. In the ninth inning of a one-run game, Lorenzen allowed C.J. Cron to hit a two-run home run, which eventually ended up winning them the game.
— Tigres de Detroit (@TigresdeDetroit) July 25, 2020
While Lorenzen was one of the better bullpen pitchers for the Reds last season, he clearly didn’t have his stuff against the Tigers and shouldn’t have been used on back to back days. This is especially true if he didn’t have his best stuff, which was likely the case after missing the changeup in his first appearance. It has continued, as Lorenzen had a 16.88 ERA through two games of the team’s second series against the Cubs.
There a few more examples of Bell not using the bullpen correctly. Robert Stephenson was put into the game despite struggling with forearm issues. He was later put on the injured list. Pedro Strop, their best offseason acquisition in the bullpen, has only pitched 1.2 innings and could have been used in the Tigers’ series more often. His best call so far was putting Tejay Antone in the game after the Cubs jumped to an early lead in the opening game of the series.
4. Lineups and Pinch-Hitters
To be fair to Bell, the Reds have been without some mainstays in the lineup for the past few games. Mike Moustakas and Nick Senzel had to sit out while waiting for Covid-19 tests. Tucker Barnhart was on the paternity list. Luckily, all three players are back now. Another thing to be fair to Bell with is that the Reds needed a manager that uses analytics and he has done that, but he may have gone too far and the outcome has been negative so far.
Even so, Bell could’ve done a better job setting the lineups and making substitutions. Right now there is a huge hole in the leadoff spot. No player has produced at a solid level. The Reds need to move their highest-paid players, who are paid to hit the ball, up in the lineup to help fill the hole. In an important spot that will get the most plate appearances, someone who can get on base and hit needs to be in that spot. Joey Votto, Eugenio Suarez, Moustakas and Castellanos need to be in the top four spots and using all of the at-bats from the top of the order. This is especially true because speed isn’t a huge factor in today’s game, as not many teams steal a lot of bases. Getting on base is the most important thing to start rallies, so the Reds need to fix that problem sooner rather than later.
To go with the starting lineup problems, Bell has made questionable decisions when deciding who to pinch-hit. In the Reds’ second game against the Cubs, Christian Colon, a player who has hit below .200 for the last two seasons that he played at least 10 games, was used to pinch-hit for the DH, Jesse Winker. Colon struck out. Bell was playing the matchups and putting a righty up to bat against a lefty, but he is doing that entirely too much. While in general pinch-hitting a righty to face a left-handed pitcher is a good idea, it can’t just be blindly done every time, which is what seems to be happening with Bell this season.
The Reds still have a long way to go with their season. Moustakas, Barnhart and Senzel are back so there is no excuse to not win games and get things back on track. They will need better managing and bullpen pitching moving forward, but they have the talent that they don’t need to be elite at either to be successful.
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