Antone hopes to make starting rotation in second season with Reds

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Tejay Antone interview (Feb. 18, 2021)

Pitcher split time between bulpen and rotation in 2020

Tejay Antone made nine relief appearances and four starts in 2020, his first season in the big leagues, and there’s no doubt which job he would rather have with the Cincinnati Reds in 2021.

“I prepared as a starter,” Antone said in February. “There’s an opportunity for me to have that job, and I’m going to do my best to take it. I do also understand that if I don’t get that role, I will probably be a reliever, and I will probably be in that hybrid role again throughout the season and I’m totally fine with that.”

Antone threw two scoreless innings of relief in his first Cactus League appearance of the spring on March 3 and made his first start Sunday, throwing three scoreless innings in a 6-4 victory against the Colorado Rockies.

The Reds expect to have Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo, Wade Miley and Tyler Mahle in the starting rotation when the season begins. Antone is one of the pitchers competing for the fifth spot along with Michael Lorenzen, Jeff Hoffman and Jose De Leon. At 27, Antone is the youngest of those four players.

A fifth-round pick in the 2014 draft, Antone climbed steadily through the Reds minor-league organization until undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2017. He returned to action in 2018 with the Single-A Daytona Tortugas and then reached Double-A and Triple-A in 2019.

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In the 60-game 2020 season, Antone moved back and forth between the bullpen and the starting rotation. He was 0-2 with a 3.86 ERA in 16 1/3 innings as a starter and 0-1 with a 1.89 ERA in 19 innings as a reliever.

When Antone made his big-league debut on July 27, he became the 19,734th player in big-league history — and just the fourth in Reds history to wear No. 70.

“I definitely thought about getting away from 70,” Antone said, “but I think that if I show up to camp every year, even if I’m a 20-year vet down the road, and I’m wearing that No. 70, I’m going to remember how it was when I first showed up. You’ve got to grind every single day. Every time I look at No. 70, it reminds me that you’ve got to be that animal that wants that job, that rookie that wants that job, that’s trying to steal that job from somebody. I put that number on my back, and I also want to represent this number and make a name for it essentially where every time someone sees that number they think of me.”

To earn a job in 2021, Antone spent the offseason in Texas working on his fastball.

“My fastball last season wasn’t as good as I wanted it to be in terms of just the way it was spinning,” Antone said. “I had pretty poor spin efficiency last year. I was getting away with it just because I was throwing a little bit harder. But I was getting hit pretty good in the zone, and I wanted to improve the spin metrics — not really increasing spin or anything but just spinning it more true. I was just cutting it off. I was getting around the fastball a lot last year. This year, that was my whole focus this offseason: staying through the ball and allowing the spin to work for me and kind of ride through the zone a little bit better.”

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Antone opened his own baseball training center in Alvarado, Texas, along with two former professional players, Jeremy Kivel and David Lucroy. It was always a life goal to have his own gym because he wanted to give back to the younger generation, but the COVID-19 situation made him pursue earlier than he planned.

“The pandemic really made me open my eyes to the opportunities,” he said. “I didn’t want to get stuck between a rock and a hard place again where I had nowhere to train if something happened. Now I have my own gym. I train a lot of high school kids. I teach them really basic stuff: warm-up; cool down; how to move your arm more efficiently; mechanical changes. We have a really good turnout and a lot of kids that have a great time there.”