Is Reds manager David Bell overusing his best reliever again?

David Bell and the Reds are relying heavily on Fernando Cruz this year.

Chicago Cubs v Cincinnati Reds
Chicago Cubs v Cincinnati Reds / Jeff Dean/GettyImages

If the Cincinnati Reds end up in playoff position at the end of this year, it'll be in no small part thanks to the valiant work of the bullpen, and specifically righty Fernando Cruz.

In 34.2 innings, Cruz has pitched to a 3.89 ERA with an impressive 2.43 FIP. He's one of just three qualified relievers with a strikeout rate over 40%, and the underlying data suggest that he's not just getting lucky. Cruz's results to date has been deserved.

But what cost is that performance coming at? Cruz is tied for 3rd-most appearances among all relievers with 37. That figure is seven more than the next closest Reds' reliever, where Lucas Sims and Alexis Diaz are both tied with 30.

David Bell and the Reds might be relying too heavily on Fernando Cruz

Cruz set a career high with 66 innings pitched across 58 outings in 2023, but is on pace to blow well past those numbers this year. If he does so, it wouldn't be the first time a Reds reliever set a career-high in innings pitched under David Bell.

Ian Gibaut and Buck Farmer both set career highs last summer and were both top 10 in MLB by innings pitched. Farmer is still plugging away in Cincinnati but Gibaut underwent surgery earlier this year to address a forearm injury that almost certainly stemmed from his substantial workload last summer.

While Cruz has been a consistent weapon for Bell and the Reds so far, one has to wonder how much they'll continue to rely on him if they fall further out of the NL Wild Card race.

Despite having the sixth best run differential in the NL, the Reds are in last place in the division and are 2.5 games back of a Wild Card spot. If they're in the hunt down the stretch, we can expect Bell to keep relying heavily on Cruz. But if the Reds drop further out of the race, it'll be interesting to see if his usage patterns shift.

So far, the righty has thrown eight times on back-to-back days this season, and 14 times after getting just one day off. Just six of Cruz's 36 appearances come after more than two days rest, meaning his arm has been taxed pretty heavily thus far.

From the Reds' perspective, Cruz is already 34. He won't be arbitration eligible until after next season and isn't scheduled to hit free agency until 2029, when he'll be 39 years old. With that in mind, it makes sense to try to get the most out of Cruz while they still can.

But Cruz certainly wouldn't be the first reliever to pitch into his late 30's if he remains healthy. If the Reds think Cruz can be this successful moving forward and want to keep him around for the long term, they might want to consider scaling back his usage and find another reliever or two who can carry a more significant share of the workload.

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