Though Cincinnati Reds’ manager David Bell has said Tucker Barnhart’s lack of playing time is due to pitching matchups, Curt Casali makes Barnhart expendable.
Curt Casali has started four or the past seven games being the plate for the Cincinnati Reds. Though all four games have come against left-handed batters, one has to wonder if a changing of the guard is on its way. Is Tucker Barnhart‘s role slowly being reduced to that of the backup catcher?
It’s a fair question. While Barnhart may have his share of support from the Cincinnati Reds fan base and the coaching staff, let’s not forget that Barnhart’s name was floated about this season in trade talks for former Marlins’ catcher J.T. Realmuto.
Realmuto was eventually shipped off to Philadelphia and is currently hitting .268 with 4 home runs, and 17 RBIs. On the other hand, Barnhart is off to a horrendous start this season. The Reds’ starting catcher is hitting just .163 on the season. Barnhart has 3 home runs and 9 RBIs.
Now, to be fair, Barnhart has always shown more upside defensively than offensively, but a .163 average is not going to get the job done. His struggles are only magnified when the Cincinnati Reds as a whole are the worst hitting team in the National League.
While Barnhart has been struggling, Curt Casali has been doing his best to unseat the Reds’ starter in the lineup. Casali is slashing .295/.348/.377. Casali has not hit a homer yet this season, but he’s never really been known for his power.
David Bell has started Casali in four of the Reds’ past seven games. Bell made it clear that he’s not benching Barnhart in favor of Casali, but is rather playing the pitching matchups and prefers Casali against left-handed starters. Here’s what Bell said before Sunday’s game via Reds.com:
"“No, it more has to do with the amount of left-handers we’re facing, and it being an opportunity to just rest Tucker a little bit and get Curt more playing time. To me, it makes sense with the demands of that position and what we ask of those guys offensively, defensively. Curt’s done a good job. Tucker is going to continue to get the majority of the playing time, but we’re also going to find opportunities to get Curt playing time.”"
As fans we love to read into little nuggets like this to see if we can splice the skipper’s words just right in order to fit into what our opinion is on the matter. The simple truth is this, David Bell has shown an inclination all season to play Casali versus lefties and the past seven games are no different.
That being said, Tucker’s struggles at the plate may force Bell’s hand a bit. If we see Bell begin to use Casali more than twice per week, regardless of the matchup, then there may be a bit more to this story than there is currently.
For now, I’m content to take David Bell at his word. Look for Casali to start the Cincinnati Reds’ next game against lefty Gio Gonzalez when the team travels to Milwaukee to the Brewers on Tuesday night. Barnhart will likely be back as the starting backstop the following afternoon when the Brewers send Zach Davies to the mound.
Tyler Stephenson, the Reds’ top catching prospect is not really lighting the world on fire in Chattanooga. The former first round pick has .255 batting average on the season and an OPS of .704. Stephenson may receive a bump to Triple-A Louisville as the season wears on, but that remains to be seen.