How much certainty is in the Cincinnati Reds rotation?


Mar 10, 2014; Surprise, AZ, USA; Cincinnati Reds pitcher

Homer Bailey

(34) throws during the first inning against the Texas Rangers at Surprise Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

The Cincinnati Reds rotation has been among the tops in the league over the last two seasons. They head into the 2014 season with a slightly different look than they had for most of the 2013 and 2012 seasons, essentially trading out Bronson Arroyo for Tony Cingrani while counting on the health from Johnny Cueto that they didn’t have in 2013.

Starting at the top of the rotation is Johnny Cueto. The right hander missed about 70% of the 2013 season with various muscle tweaks/injuries. So far this spring he has remained healthy and after a long offseason to recover, the hope is that he is 100% and the injury issues are behind him. Of course with muscle injuries popping up in back-to-back seasons, there has to be some reliability questions that come with Cueto and exactly how many innings/starts you can expect from him until he proves that these issues are behind him.

As things sit right now, if Cueto is the top guy then Homer Bailey will be jumping up to the number two spot in the rotation. Bailey inked what is easily the biggest contract for a pitcher in Cincinnati Reds history three weeks ago. Over the last two years Bailey has thrown 417 innings with an ERA of 3.58 and 367 strikeouts. He has been very consistent and has improved each of the last three seasons and has made 82 straight starts since last missing a game. Bailey seems about as reliable as anyone in the rotation.

Mike Leake has been consistently healthy since he made his debut in 2009. While he isn’t a workhorse, he did throw 192.1 innings last year and has started 61 games over the last two years. Leake hasn’t had any injury history to note and while his performance has been an “every other year” thing thus far in his career, he seems to provide some certainty that he will take the mound every five days and make another push to inch towards that 200 innings mark.

Tony Cingrani is taking over the rotation spot left by the guy who never missed a start in his big league career, Bronson Arroyo. Cingrani missed some time in the second half of last season with back spasm issues. He still made 24 starts and five more appearances out of the bullpen between Triple-A Louisville and the big league Reds as he accounted for 136 combined innings. It isn’t likely that Cingrani will be able to match the 200 innings that Arroyo threw every year during his 2014 campaign, but the back spasms were the only injury issue he has had since he was drafted. With a full offseason behind him, hopefully those issues are behind him.

Mat Latos is a bit of a wild card to begin the season after having knee surgery at the very start of spring training. The Reds are optimistic that he won’t miss much time, if any at all. Since being traded to the Reds prior to the 2012 season, Latos has thrown 420 innings. He and Bailey have been absolute workhorse starters for the Reds. While he did get injured at the start of the spring, he isn’t expect to miss much time if any and should be looked at with plenty of certainty.

Overall, it seems that the Reds have three guys they should feel very comfortable with between Bailey, Leake and Latos, who haven’t missed a start between the three of them since the middle of 2011. Johnny Cueto, after how his 2013 season played out with injuring and re-injuring himself is going to be viewed as a wild card until he proves otherwise. Tony Cingrani, while having 100+ innings under his belt at the Major League level ended the 2013 season on the disabled list and is taking over for a pitcher who literally never missed a start in 14 year big league career may not be as uncertain as Cueto, but still brings some uncertainty with him because of how 2013 ended and the fact that he has never thrown 150 innings in a season.

Many teams don’t have the depth one through five in the rotation that the Reds do, but even with five strong starting pitchers, there are some questions and some concerns about just how those five will play out during the season based on how things have gone over the last calendar year, with only Homer Bailey and Mike Leake remaining healthy in that time. While the team has one of the top pitching prospects in baseball with Robert Stephenson, he is probably half of a season away still and the options in Triple-A aren’t top prospect types. Health will play a big key for the Reds (and to be fair, every other team in baseball) rotation. Fortunately the injuries that have been suffered by the starting five in the last year aren’t arm related, which may be good for the long term, but missing starts is still handing innings over to lesser arms.