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Reds open spring training with hope for solid rotation

Bryan Price finished his annual spring training physical Tuesday and handicapped the Reds’ starting rotation for the 2018 season.

“The good thing is that it is not open tryouts,” the manager said. “But it’s not a get-your-arm-ready-for-the-season spring training either. This is a competitive group. Lack of preparedness will not bode well for anyone who wants to make the rotation.”

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Price listed the candidates as Homer Bailey, Anthony DeSclafani, Brandon Finnegan, Luis Castillo, Sal Romano, Robert Stephenson, Michael Lorenzen and Tyler Mahle.

The top four are penciled into the rotation. The rest are competing for the fifth and final spot.

“There are too many pitchers in camp to get regular starts,” Price said. “Amir (Garrett) and Jackson (Stephens) will get some starts. Cody Reed will be competing more for the bullpen but that does not reflect the opinion of the organization that he is just a bullpen pitcher. We still believe he can be a major-league starter.”

Bailey and DeSclafani are coming off multiple injury years.

Bailey hasn’t pitched a full season since 2014. He had bone spurs removed Feb. 8 and joined the rotation June 24, making 18 starts. Bailey finished 6-9 with a 6.43 ERA. DeSclafani was limited to 20 starts in 2016, joining the team in June after recovering from a strained left oblique. He missed the entire 2017 season with a stubborn sprained elbow that set him back on several occasions.

Finnegan, the only left-hander of the group, made four starts. He made three starts to open the season before a strained left lat put him on the disabled list until June 26. Finnegan pitched four innings and was placed on the DL again with a strained teres major muscle. He had surgery in July to repair a separated shoulder that was not baseball-related.

The Reds will be cautious with Finnegan.

“We want to see him pitch some bullpens and live batting practice before we slot him,” Price said. “I’m confident he will make the rotation.”

Castillo impressed the Reds with his live fastball and change-up in spring training last year but started the season in Double A.

“We were impressed with him last spring but his breaking pitch was a distant third pitch,” Price said. “He worked hard at it. He came up and was better than the league.”

Castillo was promoted June 23 and made a start against Washington. He had a 3-7 record but a healthy 3.12 ERA, lowest among National League rookies. Castillo also led rookie pitchers with a .202 opponent batting average. From July 8 to the end of the season, Castillo turned in a 2.84 ERA, which ranked eighth behind Corey Kluber, Justin Verlander, Kyle Hendricks, Jake Arrieta and Robbie Ray for the lowest ERA among pitchers with at least 12 starts.

Velocity and good stuff were just part of what impressed Price and the Reds.

“His velocity sets him apart,” Price said. “You don’t see a lot of guys throw 95-97 for seven innings and the stuff to pitch in the big leagues, but it is rare for a young pitcher to have the presence and the comfortability that he showed last year. He fields his position, and he’s quick to the plate to control the running game. There is a lot to like.

“In his first start against Washington, which is truly one of the best teams in the National League, he got into trouble with command and trying to throw perfect pitches but he managed that environment pretty darn well for a debut and settled in.”

Those top four will be in the rotation barring something unforeseen.

Lorenzen will be trying to move back into the rotation from the bullpen. Romano was 5-8 with a 4.45 ERA in 16 starts. Stephenson was 5-6 with a 4.68 ERA in 11 starts but finished strong after returning from Triple-A Louisville, going 5-2 with a 2.62 ERA in his last eight starts. Mahle made his debut against Pittsburgh on Aug. 27. He made three starts with a 1-2 record and a 2.70 ERA.

Only Rookie Davis starts camp hurt. He had hip surgery but is throwing on the side.

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