LOS ANGELES — For the first time in David Bell’s four seasons as coach, the Cincinnati Reds are using game one as a pitching strategy.
Luis Cessa will start Thursday’s series opener against the Los Angeles Dodgers with previously scheduled starter Reiver Sanmartin expected to follow Cessa out of the bullpen at some point. Cessa, who made 19 starts with the New York Yankees, hasn’t thrown more than 35 pitches in one outing since the start of spring training, so he’s limited to a three-inning maximum.
“We’ll have a pretty rested bullpen behind Cessa,” Bell said. “He was the right guy to do it. He played in a lot of different situations and roles. There was no hesitation there.”
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The Reds only finalized their decision to use an opener after Wednesday’s loss to the Cleveland Guardians. Bell said he wouldn’t have stopped Cessa from pitching had there been a situation to use him in the 7-3 loss.
Bell has always kept an open mind about openers since becoming more popular in the league in 2019. The Tampa Bay Rays are the team most associated with strategy. Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson used it in the 2018 playoffs with left-hander Wade Miley facing a single hitter in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series against the Dodgers.
“We talked about it a lot, but we never did it,” Bell said. “In the past we had guys who were just getting started and had a long track record of success as starters. There were a few times we came close to it but such a strength of our team too , we’ve never really messed that up. With some of the guys we have now, having played multiple roles, it’s just easier this time.”
The minimum three-hitter rule means right-hander Cessa will face the top of the Dodgers roster, which was Mookie Betts, Freddie Freeman and Trea Turner in their first five games. Using Cessa won’t give the Reds a peloton advantage, but the strategy means Sanmartin, a soft-throwing southpaw, won’t have to face the top of the lineup as often.
Sanmartin, 25, has only made three Major League starts but has been tougher on left-handed hitters throughout his minor league career. In two MLB starts against the Pirates and one against Atlanta, lefties are batting .182 against Sanmartin while righties are batting .375 against him.
“To be able to get Cess, who’s thrown really well, maybe up to once around the command, pick the right place to bring in – if it’s Reiver, we can find the right place in their lineup for the bring it in. then let it throw,” Bell said. “Let it go as far as it can go. We’ve got a pretty rested bullpen, lots of right-handed relievers behind Reiver.”
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The Reds will be constantly in the back of their bullpen for at least one game, but they have Tony Santillan, Art Warren, Hunter Strickland and Justin Wilson to cover the final innings.
SLOW START? The Reds have the fourth-lowest batting average (.198), fourth-lowest on-base percentage (.268) and sixth-lowest slugging percentage (.318) in the Majors in the first week of the season .
Tommy Pham, who missed Wednesday’s game with a left hand injury, is hitless in his first 15 at-bats. Aristides Aquino has nine strikeouts in 13 at bats. Mike Moustakas and Nick Senzel both had two hits for 17 at bats.
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Tyler Naquin and Kyle Farmer are the only Reds hitters with more than five hits.
“It’s not even early yet,” Bell said. “A start is like the first month or two. We feel good about it. We faced some very good pitchers. We liked the way we came back. It’s really not fair to think about it again.
REHABILITATION OUTPUTS: Left-handed starter Mike Minor didn’t pitch a spring training game and he had a tough outing to begin rehab at Double-A Chattanooga.
Minor allowed six runs on five hits (two homers) and walked one in 1 2/3 innings while striking out one. He threw 45 pitches, 23 strikes.
The Reds hope Minor will be ready to return to the Majors before the end of April. He was delayed in spring training due to shoulder pain, so he is rebuilding his sleeves.
Reds reliever Lucas Sims, who could return as early as April 22 when the Reds return to Cincinnati for their next homestand, allowed a homer on his first outing in rehab at Triple-A Louisville. Sims threw 12 pitches, retiring one batter.
YOUTUBE GAME: The Reds had previously planned to broadcast games on Bally Sports Ohio, ESPN, AppleTV+, Peacock and FOX this year, and now YouTube is back in the mix.
YouTube will exclusively broadcast the Reds’ home game against Milwaukee on Wednesday, May 11 at 12:35 p.m. Scott Braun is expected to be the play-by-play announcer and former Reds player Yonder Alonso will be the color commentator. MLB Network’s Siera Santos will host a 30-minute pre-game show.
RED SCOUT PASS: Reds scouting supervisor Jeff Brookens died Wednesday in Chambersburg, Pennsylvania after battling pancreatic cancer. He was 69 years old.
Brookens was honored last offseason as MLB’s East Coast scout of the year. He spent almost 18 years in the Reds organization and signed several major leaguers, including Devin Mesoraco and Chris Heisey, as well as top Reds prospects Austin Hendrick and Andrew Abbott.
Known as “Brookie”, he was named the Reds’ Scout Barton of the Year in 2020 and he was awarded the Mid-Atlantic Scout Association’s Scout of the Year in 2011. He was inducted into the Pennsylvania American Legion Baseball Hall of Fame and Mid-Atlantic Boy Scout Association Hall of Fame.
Brookens also served as a football and basketball referee for over three decades.