2/5/2013 1:05 P.M. ET
For Reds, much hinges on Chapman's transition
By Mark Sheldon / MLB.com
This is Part 5 and the conclusion of MLB.com's Around the Horn series of stories on the 2013 Reds. In focus: the pitching staff.
CINCINNATI -- Success in 2013 for the Reds' rotation and bullpen could be tied to one bold offseason decision -- the pending move of Aroldis Chapman from closer to starting pitcher.
If the move works, Cincinnati's rotation could rise from a very good one in 2012 to a great one that could serve as the bedrock for defending the club's National League Central crown. The Reds hope Chapman's power left arm can be attached to a No. 1- or No. 2-type starter and join ace Johnny Cueto, Mat Latos, Homer Bailey and the crafty Bronson Arroyo.
The biggest word from the previous paragraph is "if," because success is far from guaranteed. Ramping up Chapman's innings is a risk to his arm, and he has yet to show enough consistent faith in secondary pitches, a requirement for top-flight starters.
"I have no worries about my arm," Chapman said via an interpreter in December. "Since I've known about this, I've been working and getting prepared to do what I did before. Nothing has changed."
Still not publicly known is the exact plan for Chapman as far as how he'll make the switch in roles. What will be his innings limit to the season? 120? 150? 180? He threw 71 2/3 innings last season as the closer. Will he be a starter out of the gate in the regular season? To keep his innings count lower, would he begin as a reliever and transition to the rotation midseason?
These unanswered questions are a good reason why the Reds were wise not to part with any excess starting pitching over the winter. Last year's fifth starter, Mike Leake, is back in the fold for a yet-to-be determined role. If Chapman starts out in the bullpen, Leake would be the fifth starter again.
Led by Cueto's 19 wins and 2.78 ERA, Cincinnati's 2012 rotation had a lot to be proud of as it ranked fourth in the NL with a 3.64 ERA -- the lowest for a Reds starting five since 1992. In good health all season, all five starters made at least 30 starts, and the first four starters each eclipsed 200 innings. Only once was a sixth starter needed, and that was for the second game of a doubleheader.
Cueto has continued to grow as a No. 1 starter the past two seasons, and if not for three poor starts in September, he could have been a 20-game winner. The opportunity to show his stuff on a bigger stage in the playoffs was foiled when he strained his right oblique eight pitches into his Game 1 starts vs. the Giants in the NL Division Series. That setback should motivate the competitive Cueto even more.
The big acquisition of last winter, Latos overcame a slow start and became a solid No. 2 starter for the Reds. The 25-year-old was 14-4 with a 3.48 ERA, 64 walks and 185 strikeouts. His career-high 33 starts were tied for the NL lead, and his 209 1/3 innings were also a career high.
Coming off a strong end of the 2012 season that included a Sept. 28 no-hitter, is Bailey showing he's ready to be a top-flight starter? Besides having a 3.68 ERA in a career-high 33 starts, the 26-year-old also established new career bests in wins (13), innings (208), strikeouts (168) and quality starts (21). Now he just needs to pitch better at home, where he owned a 5.16 ERA compared to an NL-best 2.32 ERA on the road.
With his track record, Arroyo brings no questions about dependability. He has thrown 200 innings in seven of the last eight seasons, and his 233 starts over the last seven seasons are tied for the Major League lead. Following a down 2011, Arroyo was more consistent in 2012, winning 12 games while posting a 3.74 ERA in 32 starts.
As for the Reds' bullpen, which was led by Chapman's 38 saves in 43 tries and a stellar 1.51 ERA, everybody is set to return. Except of course, Chapman.
The bullpen, which had the best ERA in the Majors last season, is expecting to hand the closing reigns to Jonathan Broxton after he was re-signed to a three-year, $21 million contract. Broxton has 111 career saves, including 23 out of 27 in save chances last season closing for the Royals. He also went 4-for-4 in saves for Cincinnati while Chapman missed time in September with shoulder fatigue.
While there are no style points for notching saves, Chapman indeed brought electricity and dominance to the ninth inning. That will be a hard act to follow for Broxton, who is more hittable and has seen his strikeout rate drop in each of the last three seasons.
Overall in 60 appearances, totaling 58 innings last season, Broxton posted a 2.48 ERA, 27 saves, 56 hits, 17 walks and 45 strikeouts. He is prepared for any role this season.
"As long as we're winning at the end of the day, I don't care if I pitch the seventh, eighth, ninth or 10th", Broxton said upon re-signing in late November.
If Chapman is sent back to the bullpen, the battle for bullpen spots gets even more interesting.
Right-handers Broxton, Jose Arredondo, Sam LeCure, Logan Ondrusek, J.J. Hoover and Alfredo Simon and lefty Sean Marshall are all in camp. Righty setup man Nick Masset is trying to return after missing all of 2012 with a shoulder injury. And last week, former Brewers pitcher Manny Parra was signed to a one-year deal to supplement Marshall from the left side.
Counting starters and relievers, that's 15 pitchers vying for what should be 12 spots on the staff.
That would make the battle for spots the most competitive in Reds camp this spring.