Welcome to Red Monday, where fans of the Cincinnati Reds can start the week with clear-eyed analysis of how the team is doing and where it’s headed. Thanks to Matt Wilkes who pinch hit for me in this column last week while I was on vacation.
The Week That Was
The Reds landed in San Francisco for the third stop of the road trip.
- Monday The Reds lost to the Giants 4-1. Andrew Abbott wasn’t sharp, giving up five hits and three walks in 3.1 innings. He did strike out six in giving up three runs. The bullpen held up well the rest of the way, but the bats were a no-show. The Reds managed just six hits and two walk, with no homers.
- Tuesday Alex Cobb held the Reds to one hit and one run again, producing a 6-1 loss. Spencer Steer’s RBI-double broke up Cobb’s no-hitter in the 9th. Brandon Williamson gave up three earned runs (five total) in six innings. He struck out five and didn’t walk anyone.
- Wednesday The Reds’ offense showed proof of life in the series finale, scoring two runs off Giants ace Logan Webb and two runs on the bullpen in a 4-1 win. Hunter Greene gave the club the start it needed with 5.1 innings allowing no earned runs. The bullpen finished with 3.2 shutout frames, including Alexis Diaz recording his 35th save. Christian Encarnacion-Strand led the lineup with four hits and three RBI including his 5th home run.
The Reds headed back home for a gigantic four-game series against the red-hot Cubbies.
- Friday (1) The homestand started off the same as the back-half of the road trip, with the Reds lineup held in check. Graham Ashcraft gave up three runs in five innings. The bullpen gave up five walks and four hits in four innings. The offense was held to seven singles and four walks. Final: 6-2 Cubs.
- Friday (2) The offense stalled again, but the Reds rallied for two runs in the bottom of the 9th to pull out a dramatic 3-2 win. Lyon Richardson worked around five walks and two hits in 4.2 innings to give up only two runs. The bullpen (Sam Moll, Buck Farmer, Ian Gibaut, Alexis Diaz) threw zeroes the rest of the way. The Reds were down 2-1 with three outs to go. With one out, Nick Martini homered to tie the game. Christian Encarnacion-Strand followed with a single. Stuart Fairchild pinch running stole second and went to third on the throw. With two outs, Noelvi Marte singled in the winning run.
- Saturday With backs to the wall amid a pile of COVID and other IL issues, the Reds won another 9th-inning come-from-behind game, this time 2-1. Having been shutout for eight innings, the Reds were on the verge of wasting a terrific start by rookie Andrew Abbott. Jake Fraley led off the 9th with a long double. Harrison Bader, in to pinch run, stole third. TJ Friedl walked for the second time in the game. Spencer Steer took an HBP to load the bases. Elly De La Cruz laced a 110.7 mph single into right field to tie the game. Hunter Renfroe then beat out a double play by a split second to allow the winning run to score.
- Sunday In a cruel fit of irony, the Reds offense got off the mat only to see the pitching staff give up 15 runs. Tyler Stephenson had three hits and a walk, driving in three runs, including his 11th homer. TJ Friedl (12) and Spencer Steer (19) had back-to-back long balls. Rookie Carson Spiers (see item below) was pressed into emergency service and did a solid job. With the score tied 5-5 heading into the 8th, Derek Law and Alexis Diaz faced six batters without recording an out. The bullpen allowed ten runs in the final two innings. The Reds lost 15-7.
The Week to Come
The reds play six games at Great American Ball Park in the next-to-last homestand:
- Three games against the first-pace Seattle Mariners (4:10 pm, 6:40 pm, 6:40 pm)
- Thursday – off day
- Three games against the last-place St. Louis Cardinals (6:40 pm, 6:40 pm, 1:40 pm)
Connor Phillips Scouting Report
The Reds have announced that Connor Phillips will start Tuesday evening’s game against his former organization, the Seattle Mariners. The 22-year-old Phillips came to the Reds as the Player To Be Named Later in the Jesse Winker/Eugenio Suarez trade. The “real prize” of the deal for the Reds, according to Kyle Boddy. At the time of the trade, Baseball America had Phillips as the #12 prospect in the Mariners’ system, MLB Pipeline had him #15.
Seattle had selected the 6’2″ right-hander in the second round of the 2020 draft from a junior college in Texas. In 2021, Phillips pitched at A- and High-A in the Mariners organization, starting 17 games. He recorded 111 strikeouts in 76 innings along with 46 walks.
In 2022, the Reds started Phillips at High-A Dayton before being promoted mid-season to Double-A Chattanooga. Phillips made 12 starts at each stop. This season, Phillips returned to Chattanooga at the start before being elevated to Louisville on June 28. He’s made 10 starts for the Triple-A Bats. Over 40 innings, he’s struck out 43 and walked 30.
The Statcast data for Phillips at the Triple-A level is consistent. He throws a four-seam fastball way more than half time time. It’s average velocity is around 95.5 mph and has reached 97.3 mph. Phillips spin on the four-seamer is around 2430 rpm, which puts would put him in the top 90% of major league pitchers for that metric. His main secondary pitches are both above average — a lateral-moving slider with good length and movement as well as a big-arc curve that he throws for strikes.
Phillips’ most recent start for Louisville was Thursday, which puts him on regular rest for his Tuesday appearance at GABP. He threw six shutout innings with six strikeouts and one walk. All the whiffs were on his fastball.
Connor Phillips' 60-grade fastball was on point for the @LouisvilleBats.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) September 1, 2023
In his three previous starts Phillips didn’t make it through the second inning.
Here’s a recent interview with Phillips:
Connor Phillips’ Saturday promotion to the Reds started his service clock. He might spend 30 days with the Reds or he might be demoted again if the Reds regular starters get healthy enough to return. Either way, it could present a tricky decision for the club next spring. Chances are, Phillips won’t be one of the starters on the Opening Day rotation. But starting the season with the Reds, or being promoted early in the season, could end up robbing the organization of a full season of his reserve clause time.
Carson Spiers | A Reds development success
Facing an extreme scarcity of starting pitchers due to COVID and other injuries, the Reds turned to Carson Spiers to start yesterday’s game. The Reds signed Spiers as an undrafted free agent out of Clemson University in 2020. (Due to COVID, the MLB draft was shortened in 2020 to five rounds.) At Clemson, Spiers was a relief pitcher who saw action in 71 games and was a two-time ACC All Academic pick.
Spiers, who turns 26 in November, is the nephew of 13-year MLB veteran Bill Spiers who played most of his career for the Brewers and Astros. In a 2022 interview at FanGraphs, Carson Spiers credits Kyle Boddy for identifying and recruiting him to the Reds as well as expanding his pitch portfolio.
Earlier this week, before anyone knew Spiers would be promoted to the majors, Boddy wrote a long post about Spiers’ development and how he had been wrong about Spiers at first. I strongly recommend you read Boddy’s post, not only for the specifics about Spiers, but to get a sense of how the Reds went about developing during and after the COVID shutdown. Boddy concluded this way about Spiers:
“(He has) a really good arsenal; though two pitches are slightly below-average, arsenal diversity is only becoming more and more important in today’s game. Five legitimate pitches at the major league level is a huge asset for starting pitchers. Carson profiles best as a back-end SP or long man in the big leagues who has weapons to neutralize both lefties and righties.”
This year, Spiers made nine starts in 28 appearances for Double-A Chattanooga, with an ERA of 3.69 and xFIP of 4.17.
In yesterday’s game, Carson Spiers threw 87 pitches, showing off the diverse portfolio Boddy talks about.
Spiers fastball averaged 93 mph, topping out at 95.5 mph. Here’s the breakdown of Spiers’ whiff and called-strike rates.
All things considered, Spiers’ debut box score looks terrific. He gave the Reds four innings, allowing the Cubs three runs on five hits and two walks. Four of the balls hit off him were classified as “hard” (>95 mph). Spiers retired the last seven batters he faced. He struck out seven.
[Photos: Reds Facebook]