Cincinnati Reds: Jeff Hoffman’s roster spot on the line during next start

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Jeff Hoffman (23) delivers in the third inning.
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Jeff Hoffman (23) delivers in the third inning. /

The Cincinnati Reds cannot afford to trot out Jeff Hoffman every fifth day unless the former Colorado Rockies’ pitcher improves upon his past performances. A matchup with the lowly Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night is Hoffman’s best chance to instill confidence in the Reds coaches. Otherwise, David Bell may be forced to shakeup his starting rotation.

This is not hyperbole, it’s an honest to goodness fact. With the struggles we’ve seen from fellow starting pitcher Luis Castillo to begin the 2021 season, there’s no way Hoffman can take up a spot in the rotation if he continues to perform in the same manner we’ve seen the past two starts.

Reds starter Jeff Hoffman has a 9.95 ERA in his last two starts.

Jeff Hoffman was never really looked at as a starting pitcher heading into spring training. Sure, there was an outside chance that the former Colorado Rockies’ hurler would join the rotation, but only out of necessity.

Well, injuries to Sonny Gray and Michael Lorenzen prior to Opening Day forced the Reds to insert both Hoffman and José De León into the starting rotation. De León eventually fell out favor after Gray returned a couple weeks ago and the right-hander is now in Triple-A Louisville. If Hoffman doesn’t straighten things out, he won’t be far behind.

In his last two starts, Hoffman has gone just 6.1 innings, allowed seven runs on six hits while walking six batters and striking out seven. That amounts to an ERA of 9.95 and a .926 OPS-against. The walks may be the biggest concern moving forward as he’s currently saddled with a 4.39 BB/9 and an 11.2% walk-rate according to FanGraphs.

The Reds have young prospects ready to prove themselves.

Should Jeff Hoffman struggle against the Pittsburgh Pirates on Tuesday night, there’s no shortage of talented arms in the Cincinnati Reds farm system who’d love their opportunity to grab ahold of the brass ring.

Tony Santillan has long been assumed to be a back-of-the-rotation starter. The hulking Texan used to hit the upper-90s on the radar gun, but velocity has been a problem the past two seasons. Vladimir Gutierrez is another name to keep an eye on, and the right-hander pitched great in his first action of the minor league season last week.

There’s also Tejay Antone, who many fans would love to see enter the starting rotation. The only problem I foresee at this time is the lack of a consistent arm in the bullpen should Antone make the leap from reliever to starter.

Winker's long-term future is not at 1B. Next

All of this is a moot point if Jeff Hoffman returns to the pitcher that we saw the first few starts of the season. Will the real Jeff Hoffman please stand up? If it’s the pitcher who posted a 2.93 ERA and 12 punch outs in his first three starts, sign me up. But, if it’s the version we’ve seen the last two times out, I’m not sure how much longer we’ll see Hoffman in a Reds uniform.