Hoffman, De Leon likely will begin season in Reds rotation

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Derek Johnson interview: March 27, 2021

Reds not rushing back Gray, Lorenzen from injuries

The Cincinnati Reds know Luis Castillo will start Thursday on Opening Day against the St. Louis Cardinals. They’re pretty sure who will throw in the second game Saturday. The rest of the rotation is still undecided in the final days of spring training.

“I think (Tyler) Mahle is probably going to throw in that second game,” pitching coach Derek Johnson said Saturday. “From there, it gets a little bit cloudier. It could go a few different ways with what we have. At this point, you can look at (Jeff) Hoffman, (Jose) De Leon and (Wade) Miley as probably candidates for that. I don’t want to say that in any particular order because I’m not sure.”

While Mahle and Miley were expected to make the rotation, Hoffman and De Leon have been competing for jobs.

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Hoffman, who the Reds acquired in a trade with the Colorado Rockies in November, has a 6.75 ERA in 17 1/3 innings in the Cactus League. He made 16 relief appearances for the Rockies last season. He had a 9.28 ERA. He was a starter in 2019 and was 2-6 with a 6.56 ERA in 15 starts.

“I‘ve seen some really good things,” Johnson said of Hoffman. “I’ve seen some things that obviously need to become a little bit more consistent, and of course, that’s what we talked a lot about in spring training: gaining that consistency as we go. Jeff to me is one of those guys that it’s going to be a learning year for him. That’s not to say that I don’t think he’ll pitch well because I do. But I also think he’s the guy that is going to learn on the fly. He’s already kind of shown me that there’s some aptitude there. It’s about getting him in our system and seeing what happens and making adjustments as we go.”

The Reds acquired De Leon in a trade with the Tampa Bay Rays in November 2019. He has not started a game at the big-league level since his rookie year with the Los Angeles Dodgers in 2016 but has started in the minors. He had an 18.00 ERA in five relief appearances with the Reds last season and has an 8.64 ERA in 16 2/3 innings and four starts this spring.

How long Hoffman and De Leon stay in the rotation may depend not only on how they pitch but on how fast Sonny Gray (back spasms) and Michael Lorenzen (shoulder strain) can return from injuries. The Reds are being cautious with both.

“I want to win games at the beginning of the year just like everyone else,” Johnson said. “I also don’t want to put ourselves in a position where we go too fast with a guy, and all of a sudden, we’re down two or three starters simply because we were in a rush to get them going for April 1. April 1 doesn’t mean anything to me. April 1 is when we’re going to start playing baseball for real. But it doesn’t mean anything to me in terms of how we’re going to handle getting these guys ready.”

NOTES: The Reds released reliever Noe Ramirez on Saturday. They acquired him from the Los Angeles Angels for Raisel Iglesias in December. Ramirez had a 9.00 ERA in six appearances this spring. He allowed three earned runs in six innings.

• The Reds reassigned infielder Nicky Delmonico and pitcher Josh Osich to minor-league camp.

• The Reds (7-18) lost 6-3 to the Chicago Cubs on Saturday. Joey Votto made his second straight appearance since returning from the injured list and went 1-for-3. Jesse Winker homered for the second straight day. Jonathan India hit his third home run of the spring. Castillo made his last start of the spring and allowed two earned runs in 4 1/3 innings.

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