Tony Santillan's performance will force these Reds pitchers to begin 2024 at Triple-A

It's going to be difficult to keep Tony Santillan off the Reds Opening Day roster.

Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Tony Santillan
Cincinnati Reds relief pitcher Tony Santillan / Michael McLoone-USA TODAY Sports

Tony Santillan is back! The Cincinnati Reds reliever, who's struggled through injuries the past two seasons has put up impressive numbers this spring. Santillan struck out the side during his lone inning of work in the Reds spring game on Monday night. Santillan has now recorded 10 strikeouts in five innings while allowing no runs and just one hit.

It's going to be hard to keep Santillan off the Reds Opening Day roster. But Santillan is a non-roster invitee and not part of Cincinnati's 40-man roster. So if Santillan has earned a ticket on that flight back to the Queen City, it means another Reds reliever will have to start the year in the minor leagues.

Seven of the eight spots in the Reds bullpen are spoken for. Both Tejay Antone and Fernando Cruz would've been ticketed for a spot on the Reds Opening Day roster prior to Justin Wilson's signing last week. But with Wilson in the fold, and Santillan's strong spring, both Antone and Cruz could begin 2024 in the minor leagues.

Tony Santillan has earned a spot on the Reds Opening Day roster

Alexis Diaz is the Reds unquestioned closer heading into 2024. Lucas Sims and Sam Moll are expected to bridge the gap from the eighth to the ninth inning when Cincinnati is holding a lead. The rest of the bullpen will be filled out Wilson, Buck Farmer, Emilio Pagán, and Brent Suter. That leaves only one opening, and three men are fighting for that final spot.

Ian Gibaut and Alex Young will begin the season on the injured list. Gibaut is battling a forearm issue that he's had since spring training began, and Young is dealing with tightness in his back. Casey Legumina, who was also vying for a spot in the Reds bullpen, has already been reassigned to minor league camp and will begin the year at Triple-A Louisville.

Both Antone and Cruz have pitched well enough to break camp with the Reds this spring. Antone owns a 3.52 ERA with nine strikeouts in 7.2 innings of work, while Cruz has posted a 4.50 ERA in seven outings with 11 punch outs. Antone can fill a multitude of roles for Cincinnati, and Cruz might possess the most un-hittable pitch (splitter) among all Reds relievers.

Reds pitchers Tejay Antone & Fernando Cruz have minor-league options remaining

But Antone and Cruz have minor-league options remaining. Of the aforementioned Reds relievers, only Diaz and Moll can say the same, and neither one will start the season in the minor leagues.

With the Texas Rangers having plucked Jose Barrero off waivers, the Reds 40-man roster now stands at 39. Noelvi Marte will not count against the Reds 40-man roster once he is placed on the restricted list and begins serving his 80-game suspension for PED use. That leaves two openings on the Reds roster; one for Santillan and the other for designated hitter Mike Ford.

If the Reds are looking to take their best 26 players to Cincinnati for Opening Day, Santillan must be added to the 40-man roster. In doing so, that means that Antone and Cruz will start the season in the minors.

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