Reds: Once a weakness, Cincinnati’s bullpen is becoming a strength

May 12, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Heath Hembree (55) pitches. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
May 12, 2021; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Heath Hembree (55) pitches. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

I was as skeptical as you about two weeks ago. The Cincinnati Reds bullpen looked to be in shambles. No lead was safe, and while Eugenio Suarez encourages us to employ good vibes only, that was easier said than done once David Bell emerged from the dugout and motioned to the bullpen.

However, of late, the Cincinnati bullpen has gone from the team’s most glaring weakness, to possibly its second-greatest strength. The bats, of course, have been very good. Now, if the Reds starters can do their job and not put too much pressure on the relief corp, perhaps Cincinnati can get rolling during the upcoming homestand.

The Reds bullpen has shown marked improvement in May.

The Cincinnati Reds relief corp still ranks near the bottom of the National League in ERA (5.02), but the bullpen has allowed just 117 hits all season which is good enough for sixth best in the league. The two most glaring stats are the walks allowed (92) and the 20 home runs that Cincinnati relievers have surrendered.

Over the last week, however, the bullpen seems to have emerged from their slumber and are showing signs of life. Cincinnati relievers have 71 punch outs over the past seven games which is the most of any team in the NL.

The Cincinnati bullpen, during that same span, has been called upon to fill in for 64 innings worth of work. Only the Pittsburgh Pirates (66 IP) have employed more relief help during that span. The Reds starters are forcing David Bell’s hand, and Cincinnati’s skipper is turning to his bullpen early and often.

In yesterday’s game, Jeff Hoffman was lit up in the fourth inning and charged with five earned runs. However, Ryan Hendrix, Amir Garrett, Art Warren, Sean Doolittle, and Tejay Antone came on to throw five innings of one-run baseball, and that one run scored courtesy of deplorable defense by several Reds players during the bottom of the fifth inning.

Tyler Mahle put together seven solid innings during Saturday night’s clash with the Colorado Rockies, and while the normally reliable Lucas Sims struggled, fellow relief pitchers Tejay Antone and Heath Hembree picked up their teammate and allowed one unearned run without surrendering a single hit.

The Reds starters need to get deeper into games.

While the bullpen has putting together better performances of late, that doesn’t merit the Cincinnati Reds starting staff any room for error. Despite the release of Sal Romano, there are still holes in the team’s bullpen.

The aforementioned Ryan Hendrix has seen his hitless evaporate, and every fan should expect the rookie to hit a wall at some point this season. His current ERA is 4.91 and while his eight strikeouts through 7.1 frames is impressive, his eight walks are not.

Carson Fulmer has been a mixed bag this season, as the right-hander has looked brilliant at times, but very erratic during other trips to the mound. During the month of May, Fulmer has allowed eight hits through 5.2 innings to the tune of a 6.35 ERA. Fulmer has just allowed just 11 hits during 15 innings in April.

Amir Garrett and Heath Hembree have been un-hittable for the Reds of late.

The two most dominant forces in the bullpen of late have been right-hander Heath Hembree and southpaw Amir Garrett. Hembree looks like he’ll be an arm that Bell turns to late in games to close out the ninth inning, and fresh off his suspension, Garrett has looked like his old self.

Hembree earned his first save of the season on Saturday night in Colorado and has yet to allow an earned run this season. Hembree was a late addition during spring training, and has been the Cincinnati Reds most effective reliever outside of, maybe, Tejay Antone.

Garrett, who got into yesterday’s game after a five-game hiatus at the hands of Michael Hill and Rob Manfred, has a 1.42 ERA over his last seven games and has eight strikeouts in 6.1 innings of work. That’s the version of AG that can be useful during the the latter stages of games with talented left-handed hitters in the batter’s box.

Next. The 2021 season should be Castillo's last in Cincinnati

The bullpen is still a bit of a hodgepodge of talent, experience, and unknown commodities, but the results speak for themselves. We’ll see what the return to Cincinnati does for the Reds relief corp and if the starting pitchers can give some relief to the bullpen.