Reds: Transforming Tony Santillan into a reliever makes sense

CINCINNATI, OH - JUNE 13: Tony Santillan #64 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches during the game. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
CINCINNATI, OH - JUNE 13: Tony Santillan #64 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches during the game. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images) /

As unpopular as the move may be among some within the Cincinnati fanbase, transforming Tony Santillan from a starter into a reliever makes sense. The right-hander was optioned to Triple-A Louisville yesterday, and the plan is for Santillan to shift his focus from being in the rotation to coming out of the Cincinnati Reds bullpen.

Yesterday, the Reds recalled Ashton Goudeau to take Santillan’s place on the active roster. Sonny Gray is expected to return on Friday, replacing Santillan in the the starting rotation. While in Triple-A, look for Santillan to try his hand as a reliever before being recalled to the big leagues later this season.

According to C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic, don’t expect Tony Santillan to be in Triple-A Louisville for very long. The most likely scenario is that the Texas native will take the next 10 days to transition to the bullpen, then rejoin the major league club.

The bullpen is the right spot for Tony Santillan, at least for the rest of 2021.

Whether this move becomes permanent going forward in Tony Santillan’s major league career is still up in the air, but Reds fans have seen this movie before. Michael Lorenzen, Amir Garrett, and Raisel Iglesias were all given opportunities to start, but the organization eventually transitioned those pitchers from starters into relievers.

While some will argue that doing so hurts the player’s development or is short-sighted, given the state of the Cincinnati bullpen this season, the move is necessary. Despite a recent display of solid outings from the Reds’ relief corps, Cincinnati’s bullpen still has the worst ERA in Major League Baseball this season.

That number is not going to get much better with the likes of Ashton Goudeau, Cionel Perez, Jose De Leon, and Josh Osich. And with what appears to be an unwillingness on the part of ownership to make additions via trade, Nick Krall and David Bell seem to be forced to make upgrades to their bullpen internally.

Santillan is a perfect candidate to take a spot in the Reds’ bullpen. With Gray’s return, Cincinnati will have the two-time All-Star in a starting rotation with Wade Miley, Tyler Mahle, Vladimir Gutierrez, and Luis Castillo. Despite Gutierrez’s struggles last night, he still looks to be the better of the two rookie starters Cincinnati has used this season.

Tony Santillan could be a force out of the Reds bullpen.

Tony Santillan could serve several roles out of the Cincinnati Reds’ bullpen. Having proven the ability to go multiple innings, Santillan could supplant a struggling starter and give David Bell two or more innings of relief.

The right-hander could eventually transition to a role at the backend of the bullpen, as his fastball/ slider combination could be a deadly mix in the seventh, eighth or ninth innings. Without the mindset of having to throw 100-plus pitches, Santillan could see an uptick in velocity, going out for just one inning with the idea of facing the minimum.

There’s also the long-term view which, in my mind, sees Santillan transitioning to the bullpen anyway. Next season, provided we don’t see any trades, the current quintet of starters could all still be in a Cincinnati Reds uniform. Gray is under contract, while Castillo, Mahle, and Gutierrez are all under team-control. The Reds could also decide to exercise Miley’s option after this season.

Furthermore, perhaps you all have heard of a young flamethrower who’s rocketing through the minor leagues by the name of Hunter Greene. It’s a virtual guarantee that Greene will be in the Reds rotation next season, and he may find his way to the big leagues this year.

There’s also another former first-round pick, left-hander Nick Lodolo, who’s likely to be on the cusp of making his major league debut in 2022 as well. And don’t forget about Tejay Antone, a starting pitcher who’s currently serving a relief role on this year’s Reds team.

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Tony Santillan’s future this season, and perhaps going forward, looks to be in the Cincinnati Reds’ bullpen. While it’s goodbye for now, look for Santillan to rejoin the team in the next few weeks, but not as a starter.