Under-appreciated Reds reliever emerges after difficult start to the season

Reds pitcher Fernando Cruz took a lot of heat earlier in the season.

Cincinnati Reds pitcher Fernando Cruz
Cincinnati Reds pitcher Fernando Cruz / Jeff Dean/GettyImages

Opening Day of the 2023 season was not Fernando Cruz's finest moment. After emerging from a career of obscurity in 2022, Cruz looked to be one of the Cincinnati Reds top relievers heading into this season.

But after Hunter Greene left the first game of the 2023 season with the game knotted at one run apiece and runners on the corners, Reds manager David Bell called upon Cruz to take care of business.

The results were not good. Cruz walked the first batter he faced to load the bases, then walked in a run. With the Pittsburgh Pirates now leading 2-1, Cruz walked the next batter and then saw a wild pitch allow the Bucs to a 4-1 lead. Cruz was eventually replaced by Alex Young and the Reds lost the game 5-4.

Under-appreciated Reds reliever emerges after difficult start to the season.

But a lot has changed for Fernando Cruz since Opening Day. In fact, outside of closer Alexis Diaz, Cruz has turned into the Cincinnati Reds most reliable reliever.

A shoulder strain saw Cruz placed on the 15-day IL near the end of April. At that time, the right-hander owned a 6.59 ERA with 20 strikeouts and eight walks in 13.2 innings of work. After a brief rehab in Triple-A, Cruz returned to the team on May 26th and has been lights out.

Since returning from the injured list, Cruz has made 34 relief appearances and posted a 3.68 ERA with 52 strikeouts in less than 37 innings pitched. According to FanGraphs, that equates to 12.76 strikeouts per nine innings pitched and a 35.1-percent strikeout-rate.

Since the All-Star break, those numbers are even more impressive. Cruz is striking out over 14 batters per nine innings. His 40-percent strikeout-rate since July 14th is unfathomable.

Fernando Cruz's split-finger fastball is one of the most un-hittable pitches in all of baseball. While Milwaukee Brewers closer Devin Williams is able to get swing and misses on over 43-percent of his changeups (AKA - The Airbender), Cruz has a whiff-rate of 54.2-percent on his splitter according to Baseball Savant.

Pitchers like Alexis Diaz, Buck Farmer, Alex Young, Ian Gibaut, and Lucas Sims all deserve a ton of credit for logging so many innings this season, but Fernando Cruz, who's made 44 appearances in his own right, ranks sixth among NL relievers in strikeouts.

That's quite the accomplishment for someone who's spent the majority of his career in the independent leagues. Reds fans owe a tip of the cap to the under-appreciated Fernando Cruz.