By JOE KAY, AP Sports Writer
CINCINNATI (AP) — The disappointment showed in manager Bryan Price’s expression and his words. The Cincinnati Reds had just lost their top starter during spring training for the third year in a row, and that was only the half of it.
Not only was Anthony DeSclafani headed to the disabled list with another oblique injury, left-hander Brandon Finnegan had to stop throwing because of a sore forearm.
The Reds have lost 90 games and finished last in the NL Central each of the last three seasons as their rebuilding plods along, their worst such streak since the 1930s. The biggest problem is the rotation, which has been gutted by injuries the last two years. This season is starting ominously.
“I say that with nothing but frustration for Anthony and our club,” Price said while revealing DeSclafani’s injury.
The injuries to DeSclafani and Finnegan left the Reds with one healthy veteran starter as the got ready to open the season — Homer Bailey, who missed time each of the last four seasons because of forearm and elbow operations. The Reds are going to have to lean on young, unproven starters again.
They upgraded their bullpen in the offseason by signing right-handers Jared Hughes and David Hernandez to set up for closer Raisel Iglesias. Their everyday lineup is potent enough to keep them competitive. The status of the rotation will go a long way in deciding whether the Reds show signs of bottoming out in their rebuilding.
“It’s been on my mind that we’re starting to get to the point where people are tired of this stretch of ball,” first baseman Joey Votto said. “I think something has to start changing and going in a different direction. I’m going to do my part to aid that change.”
Some things to watch as the Reds again try to dig out of their hole:
VOTTO 12.0: The NL’s 2010 Most Valuable Player had a comparable season even as the Reds languished in last. Votto finished second to Giancarlo Stanton by two points for the MVP award in 2017. He batted .320 with 34 doubles, 36 homers, 100 RBIs and 134 walks. He led the NL in on-base percentage at .454. Entering his 12th season, Votto gives Reds fans something to appreciate on the team’s worst days.
SCOOTER’S ENCORE: A late acquisition in spring training a year ago, Scooter Gennett had a season for the record books. He became the 17th player to hit four homers in a game on June 6 against the Cardinals, and the only player with five hits, four homers and 10 RBIs in a game. He hit four grand slams during the season, joining Lou Gehrig as the only players with four grand slams in a season and a four-homer game. What will he do for an encore?
CHANGE OF SCENERY: Jose Peraza moves from second base to shortstop with Zack Cozart gone to the Angels. How well he adapts to the position — which he played in the minors — will be a focus early in the season.
BEST CASE: If the rotation holds together and the bullpen is better, the Reds could flirt with .500 and move up in the division. That would be a notable achievement and indicate to fans that the long rebuilding is starting to produce results. The Reds could then add some free agents in the offseason and try to become competitive again.
WORST CASE: Another season of sameness: the rotation struggles, the bullpen gets worn out, the Reds lose 90 games for the fourth year in a row, and fans continue to lose interest. Attendance has declined every year since 2013, hitting 1.8 million last year. The Reds haven’t lost 90 games so many years in a row since 1930-34, when they set the club record of five straight.
AP freelance writer Gary Schatz in Goodyear, Arizona, contributed to this report.
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