Reds rotation battle reveals startling reality with Nick Lodolo’s impending return

Nick Lodolo is scheduled to return to the Reds rotation in early-April.

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Nick Lodolo (40) delivers a pitch
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Nick Lodolo (40) delivers a pitch / Kareem Elgazzar/The Enquirer / USA TODAY

The Cincinnati Reds starting rotation appears to be all but set heading into the final week of spring training. Frankie Montas was named the Reds Opening Day starter and will be followed by Hunter Greene, Graham Ashcraft, and Nick Martinez.

The final spot in the Reds rotation is a two-man race between Andrew Abbott and Brandon Williamson. Both left-handers have been battling all spring, and the latest injury concern may have sealed the deal. Williamson left his last start with a shoulder injury, and there's no timetable for his next start.

That would seem to indicate that Abbott will be the Reds fifth starter. But how long will that last? With Nick Lodolo scheduled to return to the Reds on April 10th, Abbott may be one-and-done before being optioned back to Triple-A.

When Nick Lodolo returns Andrew Abbott could be optioned to Triple-A

This will be unpopular, but if there's no additional injuries between now and the time that Lodolo returns to the Reds roster, Abbott may start just one game before heading back to the minors. That's not to say that Abbott doesn't deserve a spot in the starting rotation, but based on the Reds roster construction, there just aren't enough spots to go around.

Given the addition of Justin Wilson and the spring performance of Tony Santillan, the Reds are already going to find it difficult to keep Tejay Antone and Fernando Cruz on the active roster.

Some Reds fans would prefer to see Lodolo take Martinez's spot in the starting rotation, and move this year's free agent acquisition to the bullpen. But Martinez is the only pitcher competing for a spot in the starting rotation who's yet to give up an earned run this spring.

Martinez took it to the Los Angeles Dodgers' All-Star lineup his last time out and has seven punch outs in five innings of work during Cactus League play. Martinez has earned his spot in the starting rotation with his performance this spring.

There's no room in the Reds bullpen for Nick Martinez

There's not a lot of wiggle room in the Reds bullpen. Santillan, Wilson, Buck Farmer, Emilio Pagán, Lucas Sims, and Brent Suter are out of minor-league options, and Sam Moll and Alexis Diaz are expected to be fixtures in the backend of the Cincinnati bullpen in 2024.

Sorry, Reds fans, but if everyone is healthy, Abbott won't be in the starting rotation for very long. And while spring training statistics should be taken with a grain of salt, Abbott's 7.88 ERA is the highest among all Reds starters this spring. Only Montas has allowed more hits than Abbott, but last year's rookie has appeared in nearly four fewer innings.

With two off days during the first two weeks of the season, it's conceivable that Abbott would toe the rubber for just one game before being sent back to Louisville where he'd join Williamson and Connor Phillips in the Bats' starting rotation.

This speaks to the depth of the Reds roster. If players like Abbott, Williamson, Phillips, Cruz, and Antone are starting the season in the minor leagues, it shows that Cincinnati now has the depth to withstand the onslaught of injuries that derailed this team late last year. Depth is not a bad thing, and the team will eventually need contributions from every player on the 40-man roster.

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