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Reds Could Ride Arms To A Winning Record
By Slyde from Red Reporter.
[ March 4, 2009 at 2:08 PM ] [ Comments (9) ] [ Full Story ]  [ Filed under: Features | Reds ]
[ Tagged: , ]
Baseball fans that don't follow the Cincinnati Reds very close may be in for a surprise this year.  Not just because they have an outside shot at being a winning team for the first time in nearly a decade, but because of how they are likely to achieve that success if it happens.  After spending most of the new millennium trying to win with just their bats, the Reds are finally set up with a starting rotation that could turn some heads throughout baseball.
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Despite having a season he'd rather forget in 2008, the Reds staff is still headed up by right-hander Aaron Harang.  After being a Cy Young contender in both 2006 and 2007, Harang only managed a 6-17 record with a 4.78 ERA in 2008.  His dismal season was likely brought on by forearm stiffness that led to a two-week trip to the disabled list.  His injury was probably a result of overuse during the month of May when he pitched 4 innings in relief and then made his regular start 4 days later, though both Harang and manager Dusty Baker deny any correlation.  After that relief appearance, he went just 1-7 with an ERA of 9.06 in his next 10 starts before going on the DL.  He rebounded in September though, posting a 3.07 ERA in 6 starts during the month.  If Harang can come into 2009 with a healthy body - he is reported to have lost 25 pounds this off-season - there is no reason to believe that he can't regain his form and be a frontline starter once again.

Even if Harang is unable to recreate the success he had in '06 and '07, the Reds still have a couple of young pitchers that look like they could turn into bona fide aces for the future.  Edinson Volquez dominated hitters in the first half of 2008 with a fastball that sits in the mid-nineties and a devastating change-up that made hitters look foolish at times.  He seemed to wear down a bit after the All Star break, but his innings increase from 2007 was reasonable given his age, so there should be no concern for long-term fatigue.

After bursting onto the scene with his first start in 2008, Johnny Cueto cooled off dramatically as the season went on, but still posted a respectable 4.81 ERA as a 22-year old.  He battled with some control issues throughout the season, but it should be something that is correctable as Cueto posted a svelte 2.1 BB/9 in the Minors.  Add in the fact that he is still working with change-up master Mario Soto to perfect a change-up of his own, and Cueto could very well pitch like a number two starter this coming season.

Bronson Arroyo rounds out the top 4 of the Reds rotation with his reliable 200 IP and 10-15 wins a year.  Arroyo is one of those rubber armed pitchers that doesn't seem to fatigue much as the season goes on - unless he's partying too much - so there is little indication that he can't keep doing what he's been doing for the last couple of years.

Perhaps the biggest improvement for the Reds will be in the 5th starter spot in the rotation.  Last year, the Reds fifth starters went a combined 4-21 in 36 starts with an abysmal 7.47 ERA over 169 innings.  After years of trying to get by with retreads and minor league journeymen, the Reds finally appear to have some upside in the number 5 spot.  With the acquisition of Micah Owings last summer, plus the development of youngsters like Daryl Thompson, Matt Maloney, and Ramon Ramirez, the Reds have several viable options for their rotation.  The wild card in all of this is one time uber-prospect Homer Bailey, who lost a bit of his luster with a less than stellar performance in 2008 and rumors of attitude problems.  He's been impressive so far this spring though, and worries about his bad attitude are starting to be put to rest.  If Bailey, who is still only 22 years old, can regain the form that he showed in the minors in 2006, he could potentially take the Reds fifth spot in the rotation and turn it from a black hole into a plus for the team.

You probably won't see the Reds score a lot of runs on offense this year, but with major defensive upgrades in the outfield and possibly at shortstop, plus a starting rotation that could compete with most teams 1-5 starters, you might see the Reds sneak up on a few teams and post their first winning record since the start of this decade.

Slyde is the editor of Red Reporter, SB Nation's Cincinnati Reds blog.

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