by Steve Mancuso

RC+ Preview: Aquino, Gausman, Lorenzen subplots as Reds start 9-game stretch in spoiler role

The Reds (70-80) already have more wins than any season since 2014. Hooray? They find themselves smack in the middle of major league #spoiler territory the next three series, facing the Cubs, Mets and Brewers. The Cubs are two games out of first place in the NL Central, but only one game ahead of Milwaukee for the second Wild Card spot. They’re on the knife’s edge in both directions.

The Reds send Kevin Gausman to the mound tonight. Gausman has two pitches. He does not lack for a track record as a starter, as this will be start number 154 for the tall righty. As Mike Hart documents below, Gausman has been excellent in the role of reliever. Maybe this is a thing the Reds feel they owe Gausman. Maybe it’s driven by Gausman’s weird salary situation of being paid like a starter. Maybe it’s the Reds performing due diligence in the search for starting pitching. Maybe the front office is a band of pathological optimists about their new coaching staff’s ability to improve pitchers. Maybe it’s about building Gausman’s trade value.

The Reds have five solid starters returning next year – Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer, Anthony DeSclafani and Tyler Mahle – and if they’re looking to promote another one from the bullpen, why not Michael Lorenzen, who has shown mastery of 4-5 pitches?

So, I’m not crazy about starting Gausman tonight. If it’s a limited experiment, it can’t do any harm. I hope he throws a no-hitter against the stupid Cubs. But if the front office lets a good start or two the next couple weeks by Gausman make them ignore his long track record, that seems like a major self-inflected misdirection.

Pitching Matchup

From Mike Hart:

“Kevin Gausman is making his first start for the Reds. He started 16 games for the Atlanta Braves before being released in August. The Reds claimed him off waivers, he has made 11 appearances out of the bullpen. Gausman has pitched well enough in the bullpen, including an immaculate inning, to earn a chance to start again. The Reds still have two more years of team control, so they are likely trying to see what they have in Gausman going into the 2020 season.

As a starter with the Braves:

  • 6.19 ERA
  • 4.20 FIP
  • 4.50 xFIP
  • 4.43 SIERA

As a reliever for the Reds:

  • 4.02 ERA
  • 2.83 FIP
  • 2.07 xFIP
  • 2.54 SIERA

The advanced statistics say that Gausman has probably pitched better than his ERA shows. Let’s hope that some time under Derek Johnson has helped him.”

Aristides Aquino’s third home run this season came off Cubs starter Cole Hamels. So Hamels was a subject of my post on Aquino’s homer. Here’s what I wrote:

“Hamels (35) has been one of the best starting pitchers in baseball since he debuted in 2006 against the Reds. He’s a 4-time All-Star, 4-time Cy Young vote-getter. Reds fans might remember Hamels delivering a painful, 9-inning, 5-hit shutout in Game Three of the 2010 NLDS in GABP.

Hamels is known for his changeup. Here’s how he describes its importance: ‘It’s the pitch that’s made me who I was. If I didn’t have the circle changeup, I don’t even know if I would’ve made my high school baseball team because it was pretty competitive and I didn’t throw that hard yet. But the circle changeup’s really helped me keep hitters off balance and allowing me to do what I do today.”’

For Hamels, the changeup has been like Wonder Woman’s Lasso of Truth. He’s used it to devastating effect over many years.”

Aquino’s home run off Hamels changeup had an exit velocity of 118.3 mph. That remains the highest EV for any major league homer this year.

Reds Lineup

Reds go with a RH-heavy lineup to face Hamels. Joey Votto is scratched because he’s sick. Josh VanMeter with the only start for a lefty. Jose Peraza gets another last-look start ahead of Freddy Galvis or Jose Iglesias. I love that David Bell is giving Michael Lorenzen starts in CF. Early indications are that Lorenzen can handle the defense. He was a CF for a major college baseball program. We’ll have to see how he looks at the plate when opposing teams spend time game-planning him.

Here are the splits for Reds hitters against left-handed pitchers:

Cubs Lineup

[Graphics: Baseball Savant]

Big thanks to Mike Hart, who contributed graphics and research for this post.

Steve Mancuso is a lifelong Reds fan who grew up during the Big Red Machine era. He’s been writing about the Reds for more than ten years. Steve’s fondest memories about the Reds include attending a couple 1975 World Series games, being at Homer Bailey’s second no-hitter and going nuts for Jay Bruce at Clinchmas. Steve was also at all three games of the 2012 NLDS, but it’s too soon to talk about that.