- Reds lefty Alex Wood will make his third Triple-A rehab appearance Wednesday, when he’ll throw four innings and 60 to 65 pitches, per Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer. It’s a good sign for Wood, whom back problems have stopped from pitching in in the majors in 2019. His return, if it comes, could be a boon for a Cincinnati team that isn’t waving the white flag on a playoff push despite a 43-48 record.
Reds GM Nick Krall chatted with Jon Heyman and Josh Lewin on the Big Time Baseball Podcast (audio link), providing some information on the team’s approach to the swiftly approaching trade deadline. He largely echoed the recent comments of his boss, president of baseball operations Dick Williams, but put a slightly different spin on things.
Krall was somewhat less committed to the characterization of the Cincinnati outfit as a buyer. Williams said the club is in the “buyer category,” while also noting that the focus would go beyond the present season. Krall left a bit more wriggle room in the buying characterization and put a bit more emphasis on the longer-term picture. Over the coming weeks, he says, the Reds will “figure out how we want to improve it for the long run … not just for the next two months.”’
That’s not to suggest there’s any internal discord; it’s just added information that helps build out an understanding of the team’s stance. Krall’s phrasing seems to indicate a bit more more hesitancy to push future-oriented chips in when the division picture could change for the worse in a relatively short period of time. It appears he’s inclined to see how things look when the deadline is fully upon us.
“[I]f you can add somebody to bolster your team to help you make a run that would be awesome,” he said. “I think we’d love to do something like that and we’ve gotta just keep figuring out what the deals are and where we stand and keep moving.” While Krall said that “you’d love to be able to buy this year,” he went on to qualify things: “We’ve got a couple more weeks of games before we get to the actual deadline … you want to see if we can get some consistency.”
After wrapping up a win tonight against the division-leading Cubs, the Reds sit at 5.5 games off the pace. They’re not much closer to the Wild Card. It’s sub-optimal, but about as good as could be hoped having reached this stage of the season with a 43-48 record.
Krall suggests that the team believes its roster has performed somewhat better than its results would indicate. The team’s run differential has been in good shape lately, he notes. But the club needs to find a way to “turn those runs into wins.”
One key for the Reds is the play of pending free agent Yasiel Puig, who has been on a welcome tear at the plate. Krall says the sides have not held any discussions about a contract to keep the 28-year-old in Cincinnati beyond the present season. But he seemingly hinted that could be of interest. “He’s been great,” Krall said of Puig, calling the occasionally polarizing performer “a great teammate” and “high-energy guy” for the organization.
- Reds outfielder Jesse Winker left today’s game in the middle of an at-bat due to injury. After swinging at a pitch, Winker told reporters (including MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon) that “my lower left back, side area tightened up. I was feeling some tightness in my right rib cage as well.” The problem first arose during his initial swing in the plate appearance, Winker added. He will undergo tests tomorrow to further access the damage, though if Winker has suffered an oblique injury, he would be facing an absence of several weeks. The 25-year-old has a .250/.328/.462 slash line and 13 home runs over 290 PA with Cincinnati this season, playing mostly against right-handed pitching (and with some drastic splits, including a .428 OPS in his only 39 PA against lefties). Should Winker miss time, a platoon of Derek Dietrich and Phillip Ervin in left field would seem to be the Reds’ likeliest response.
Reds president of baseball operations Dick Williams chatted over a few elements of the club’s trade deadline approach with C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic (subscription link). Of particular note, he left no doubt of the organization’s intention to seek roster improvements over the next few weeks.
“We’re going to look around to see what we can do to make us better, which would put us in the buyer category,” says Williams. “We feel like we’re in the thick of the race so we think it’s important to see what we can do to improve the club,” he went on to explain.
The Reds have been much better since a terrible start to the season. But they don’t look much like a typical contender at 41-46. Fortunately, they’re far from buried due to the failure of any single NL Central rival to pull away from the pack. Entering play today, just 4.5 games separated the cellar-dwelling Cincinnati club from the pace-setting Cubs. (The second-place team in the NL West faces three times the deficit.)
It’s sensible for the Reds to continue pressing under the circumstances. They parted with some prospect capital for near-term improvements over the winter. While everything hasn’t gone according to plan, the club has little reason to pull out of the race now with a sell-off that likely wouldn’t net all that much future value.
That’s not to say that the Cincinnati front office intends an all-in approach. Williams says the club won’t “focus exclusively on this year, but we will be looking to see if we find deals that make us better.” With a determination to improve the club’s outlook now and in the near future, it seems that Williams and his staff will be most intrigued by controllable targets. (That said, he did not rule out entirely the possibility of limited rental acquisition efforts.)
If the Reds are in it to win it, then it seems the NL Central will have five buy-side clubs. The Pirates could yet pivot, or at least consider deals that improve their future outlook without stripping too much immediate talent from the roster. But they won’t be true sellers if they stay within a few games of the pace. A rapid turn from the Cincinnati org or one of its competitors could yet change the math, but it appears likeliest that the full pack will remain in the chase.
It is fascinating to consider the ways in which this dynamic will shape the market. For one thing, most if not all of the potential rental targets on these rosters won’t be put up for sale. Even if most of the teams only operate as limited buyers, all will presumably be looking into adding assets. That’ll skew the overall market development quite a bit — particularly if the NL Central teams engage in any amount of direct transactional competition or hot stove one-upmanship with their inter-division competitors.
TODAY: The Reds have officially announced the signing (via Twitter). Ciuffo has been assigned to Double-A and placed on the seven-day injured list.
TUESDAY: The Reds are nearing a minor league agreement with recently released catcher Nick Ciuffo, per a report from Roster Roundup (Twitter link). Ciuffo, who is still recovering from early-June thumb surgery, was cut loose by Tampa Bay last week. Based on the initial 8-10 week timeline that accompanied his surgery, he should be healthy in late July to mid August.
In need of a 40-man roster spot late last month, the Rays opted to designate Ciuffo for assignment in order to open space. Because injured players can’t be passed through outright waivers, Tampa Bay was limited in its options and released Ciuffo. It’s most common in these situations for the player to simply re-sign with his original organization on a minor league deal, but it seems that Ciuffo found an opportunity more to his liking with the Cincinnati organization. If the deal is ultimately completed, the Reds will hope to find some success with a second castoff Rays catcher; Curt Casali has batted .265/.343/.412 in 316 plate appearances since the Reds acquired him from the Rays in exchange for cash last season.
Ciuffo was the No. 21 overall pick by the Rays back in 2013. The 24-year-old hasn’t found much success in either Triple-A or the big leagues, however. Ciuffo has a .228/.276/.350 batting line in Triple-A Durham this season and has mustered only a .529 OPS in a tiny sample of 50 big league plate appearances dating back to 2018. The South Carolina native carries a .250/.292/.369 hitter in 370 Triple-A plate appearances to go along with solid framing marks and a career 42 percent caught-stealing rate.
Reds hurler Sonny Gray isn’t bitter about his tenure with the Yankees, but that doesn’t mean he’s in denial about his struggles there. As Ken Davidoff of the New York Post writes, the 29-year-old All-Star values his time in New York precisely because of the difficulties he faced.
Gray says his experience with the Yanks was “absolutely” a positive one, even though he ended up being left off the postseason roster on the heels of a brutal regular season (4.90 ERA in 130 1/3 innings).
“I think everyone kind of knows that New York wasn’t a great fit for me, place for me, last year,” says Gray. “It just didn’t seem to work out, for whatever reason. But looking back, I wouldn’t change one thing about it.”
Quite often, parting transactions leave at least one involved party with hard feelings. Not so here. Gray facilitated the three-team deal that delivered him to Cincinnati by agreeing to a three-year extension (plus option). That contract now appears to be quite an appealing one for the Reds, who also acquired lefty Reiver Sanmartin in the deal. But it also wasn’t a bad bit of security for Gray to achieve at the time, particularly given his wavering output in two of the three preceding seasons.
On the other side of the swap, the Yanks got some nice parting gifts. Outfielder Josh Stowers came aboard when the club shipped former Reds prospect Shed Long straight to the Mariners, who have already received big-league contributions from Long. And the New York organization just used the comp pick it received from the Cincinnati club to select southpaw TJ Sikkema. (The original deal to acquire Gray from the A’s also hasn’t stung the Bronx Bombers — not yet, at least.)
Gray says he’s stronger for the difficult experience. He certainly has bounced back with aplomb, slinging 90 1/3 innings of 3.59 ERA ball with 10.3 K/9 against 3.3 BB/9. By most metrics, he’s much the same pitcher as before. But Gray seems to be squeezing more out of his tools, inducing much less hard contact (33.9% after surrendering 39.5% last year, per Statcast) and generating a career-high 27.8% K rate despite continuing to sport similar swinging-strike marks.
5:22PM: Senzel’s sprain doesn’t seem to be particularly serious, as Reds manager David Bell told reporters (including C. Trent Rosecrans of The Athletic) that he believes Senzel will be ready to go after the All-Star break. This sprain is in a different area than the ankle injury that previously took Senzel out of action in Spring Training, Bell noted.
3:13PM: Reds outfielder Nick Senzel exited Sunday’s game prematurely after suffering a right ankle sprain, according to John Fay of the Cincinnati Enquirer. The rookie appeared to snag a cleat on the center field fence while he was going after a Carlos Santana fly ball in the first inning. He played out the rest of the first inning and went on to take an at-bat in the bottom of the inning, but did not take the field for the second inning.
The severity of the sprain is not yet clear—ankle sprains can vary in seriousness and recovery timetable, though it’s notable that the injury wasn’t reported as a high ankle sprain, which tend to be more worrisome. At any rate, the timing of the injury is probably a best-case scenario, with the All-Star break affording Senzel and the Reds the next handful of days off.
Senzel, just 24 years old, has emerged as a key cog in the Reds’ lineup after debuting in May. In addition to slotting into the all-important leadoff spot and providing passable offensive output, Senzel has played exclusively in center field, a premium defensive position, in the Majors.
In Sunday’s game, Senzel was replaced in center field by Jesse Winker, who started the game in left field. Moving forward, the Reds should have several options to fill in for Senzel, should he require an IL stint. Phil Ervin has excelled as a reserve and could get starts in left field with Winker moving to center. Otherwise, Derek Dietrich, Jose Peraza, and Josh Vanmeter all have experience in the outfield. Scott Schebler, whom Senzel replaced in center following the former’s abysmal April showing, remains in the minors and is an option in center field.
The latest in minor moves from around the game…
- The Reds have released Zach Duke, per Mark Sheldon of mlb.com. Duke, now 36, has long been an effective reliever from the left side, but was viciously knocked around in 30 appearances for the club this season, posting identical 6.94 K and BB/9 marks in 23 IP. The lefty’s assortment of offspeed offerings has been death on same-side hitters for nearly a decade and a half now, but even southpaws crushed him this year, posting an eye-popping .250/.385/.500 slash through the season’s first half. He’s a decent bet to catch on elsewhere, given his track record, but the leash won’t be nearly as long this time around.
- Former Mets infielder T.J. Rivera has signed with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League, tweets Jon Heyman of MLB Network, who notes that the 30-year-old took much of the early season off to “fully recover” from his 2017 Tommy John Surgery. Rivera posted consecutive above-league-average offensive marks in limited time for the 2016 and ’17 Mets, though the club never seemed keen on giving him a full-time gig. A strong Indy showing should land him a spot in affiliated ball, though it may be too late this season for him to make a mark.
- Reds manager David Bell provided updates on several injured members of the Cincinnati roster in his pregame meeting with reporters, including Bobby Nightengale of the Cincinnati Enquirer. Alex Wood is slated to begin a rehab assignment this week, as the lefty will pitch for the first time this season after being beset with back problems since Spring Training. Wandy Peralta (hip) may need a minor league rehab game or two, though he had a bullpen session today and is pretty close to a return. Cody Reed (knee strain) is back “throwing” since hitting the IL in late May, Bell said, though “he’s probably still a couple of weeks away from pitching.”
- There has also been “no talk of IL at this point” about Scooter Gennett, Bell said, after Gennett left Wednesday’s game with tightness in his left groin. Gennett didn’t play today, as Bell decided to give the veteran two full days of rest since the Reds have an off-day on Friday. Gennett only recently returned from a right groin strain that had sidelined him since March 22.
Prior to this afternoon’s 1-0 win over the Brewers, the Reds placed left-hander Amir Garrett on the 10-day injured list due to a left lat strain. The placement was retroactive to July 3. Outfielder Josh VanMeter was called up from Triple-A to take Garrett’s spot on the 25-man roster.
Formerly a top-100 ranked prospect in 2016 and 2017, Garrett struggled as a starting pitcher in his 2017 rookie season but has since blossomed as a reliever. Garrett has a 1.70 ERA, 13.1 K/9, 51.9% grounder rate, and 2.70 K/BB rate over 37 frames out of Cincinnati’s bullpen this season. His walk rate (4.86 BB/9) is a bit high and Garrett’s 93.5% strand rate is likely unsustainable, but he has been a very solid weapon overall out of the Reds’ pen, dominating both right-handed and left-handed hitters. Garrett’s signature pitch, a slider that he has used 58.8% of the time this season, has been virtually untouchable — batters have a .098 average and a .146 slugging percentage against Garrett’s slider.
The injury isn’t considered to be too serious, as Garrett told MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon and other reporters that it was only a case of “regular soreness,” perhaps due to throwing more fastballs than usual in Tuesday’s outing. Between Friday’s off-day on the Reds schedule and the All-Star break, Garrett might end up missing only five games if he requires only the minimum 10-day IL stint.
As Shelton notes, however, the Reds still have a short-term issue in a lack of left-handed relievers in the pen with Garrett and Wandy Peralta both on the IL. Alex Wood and Cody Reed are the only other southpaws on the 40-man roster, and they are both working their way back from their own injuries. With Cincinnati increasingly looking like they’ll stay close enough in the NL Central race to be deadline buyers, one would think the team will target left-handed relief help even if Garrett is back in pretty short order.