One of the most surprising statistics through the first two weeks of the season is the 2.79 ERA of the Cincinnati Reds relievers.
That ranked third among National League bullpens and seventh in the major leagues entering Sunday. It has also come on the heels of a historically bad season by the Reds relief corps last year.
In 2016, the Reds converted just 28 of 53 save chances and the relievers’ 103 home runs allowed were the most in major-league history.
However, the bullpen took a turn for the better in the second half when right-handers Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen were converted to relievers from starters. That helped the Reds go 36-37 after the All-Star break following a disastrous first half in which they were 32-57.
Two other starters have also been moved to the bullpen this season — left-hander Cody Reed and right-hander Robert Stephenson — as well as former Washington Nationals closer Drew Storen, who was signed as a free agent in the offseason.
Left-hander Tony Cingrani and right-hander Blake Wood are the two remaining members from the beginning of last season.
The bullpen has helped the Reds get off to an 8-4 start, good for first place in the National League Central following back-to-back last-place finishes with 98 and 94 losses.
“Not to hammer the players who were here last year really because they just did not have any defined roles whatsoever,” Reds manager Bryan Price said. “We had guys with limited experience and in a lot of cases, unfortunately, limited ability. We were able to start stacking arms last season in the second half when we added Lorenzen and Iglesias and started to look like a major-league bullpen.
“Last year, it was a sense of helplessness because we didn’t know what was going to happen, though it was often a walk then a home run.”
Manager Paul Molitor’s heart was in the right place when he decided to have center fielder Byron Buxton open the season as the No. 3 hitter in the Minnesota Twins’ lineup.
It was a show in faith in Buxton for his strong finish to last season in which he hit .287/.357/.653 with 9 home runs in 29 games in September and October. The former top prospect had struggled mightily in his previous major league stints.
Buxton told FanRag Sports early in spring training how different his mindset was coming into this season because he was much more relaxed.
However, the struggles have returned for the 23-year-old. He is off to a .100/.143/.150 start through his first 11 games with a whopping 21 strikeouts in 42 plate appearances and is now hitting at the bottom of the order.
“Byron is a great kid but he just puts so much pressure on himself,” a Twins’ person said. “I understand what Molly was trying to do with hitting him third but maybe it was too much too soon. We thought Byron was over the hump but it takes most players some time to develop in the big leagues, regardless of their talent level.”
The New York Yankees’ starting pitching depth is thin. Thus, Jordan Montgomery’s major-league debut on Wednesday night provided reason for optimism, even if the 24-year-old left-hander was far from dominant.
Montgomery pitched 4.2 innings in a no-decision against the Tampa Bay Rays in a game the Yankees won 8-4. While he allowed 3 runs — 2 earned — 5 hits and 2 walks, Montgomery also had 7 strikeouts.
The Yankees’ fourth-round draft pick in 2014 from the University of South Carolina will make his second start Monday night against the visiting Chicago White Sox. He beat out more established pitchers for the fifth starter’s job, including right-handers Luis Cessa, Chad Green and Bryan Mitchell.
“I love the kid,” an American League scout said of Montgomery. “He was a little jittery his first time out but he really knows how to pitch. He has some deception and he does a great job of pounding the bottom portion of the strike zone. He hasn’t gotten much hype for whatever reason but I think he is going to be a good big-league starter for a long time.”
This week’s series of the week is the Boston Red Sox at the Toronto Blue Jays, a three-game set that begins Tuesday night at the Rogers Centre between two teams with playoffs aspirations (despite Toronto’s 2-9 start).
The teams split 38 games over the past two seasons, with the Blue Jays holding a 10-9 edge last year when right fielder Jose Bautista hit 6 home runs and second baseman Devon Travis batted .302 (16-for-53) with 4 doubles and 2 home runs.
Rick Porcello beat the Blue Jays three times in 2016 and is scheduled to start Wednesday night in the middle game of the series against Francisco Liriano.
Eduardo Rodriguez pitches Tuesday night for the Red Sox against Marcus Stroman. Chris Sale will start Thursday; the Blue Jays have yet to announce a starter after placing right-hander Aaron Sanchez on the 10-day disabled list Sunday morning with a blister on his right middle finger.