In 2020, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Tejay Antone was one of the most productive rookie starting pitchers in the National League.
But manager David Bell believes Antone can make a bigger impact in the Reds bullpen.
“My gut tells me (after) the success he had out of the bullpen last year, (we) hope he can contribute and help us win,” Bell said. “That role is so valuable that I’m almost hopeful that it turns out that we can keep him in that role.”
In 2020, Antone pitched in just about every role for Cincinnati.
He debuted on July 27 against the Chicago Cubs and threw 4.1 innings, allowing one run. A week later, Antone made his first start, throwing 4.1 innings against Cleveland. Then he spent the following three weeks as a long reliever before starting three more games in late August and September.
Antone returned to his long relief role for the last two weeks of the regular season, and he did not appear in the playoffs.
But among rookie pitchers who made at least four starts, Antone was one of the best in the NL. He led that group in strikeout percentage and ranked third in ERA. Among that group of pitchers, Antone had the lowest opposing batting average and the second-lowest OPS.
After Antone had a full offseason where he prepared to pitch at the Major League level, Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson believes Antone can take another step forward in 2021.
“I think (Antone) is one of those guys who is never satisfied with where he is. So to me, he’s almost like by conscious design, this guy is always looking for the next thing -- the 1 percent, if you will. So I look for him. We talk about his fastball and what it needed to do, what it needed to be for him to be a starter, I think he’s probably a step further.”
But as Bell explained, Antone was more valuable in Cincinnati’s bullpen last season.
As a starter, Antone had a 3.86 ERA, and opposing hitters had a .789 OPS. As a reliever, Antone had a 1.89 ERA and opposing hitters had a .097 batting average and a .337 OPS.
Regardless of whether he was starting or coming out of the bullpen, Antone was considerably more productive in his first time through the lineup.
In his first time through the order last season, Antone allowed 11 total hits and one home run while striking out 40 percent of opposing hitters in 85 at-bats. In 36 at-bats where Antone had already faced an opposing hitter, Antone allowed nine hits and two home runs while striking out just 31 percent of opposing hitters.
Antone is still technically in the competition for the final spot in the Reds starting rotation in 2021 with Michael Lorenzen, Jeff Hoffman and José De Léon.
But Antone thrived out of the bullpen last season: he had the second lowest opposing batting average in MLB as a relief pitcher and the second lowest opposing OPS among relief pitchers who threw 19 innings last season.
The only player who was more effective in those areas out of the bullpen was Devin Williams of the Milwaukee Brewers, who won NL Rookie of the Year and finished seventh in Cy Young Award voting.
It looks like Antone is headed back to that role in 2021.
“I think (he’s good at) the role he served in where he would come in and go multiple innings out of the bullpen, kind of bridge that gap between the starter and maybe Amir (Garrett) or Raisel (Iglesias) last year,” Bell said. “We had a few guys doing that. That was a real key for our bullpen.”
Kyle Farmer leads off in Spring Training Opener
It’s only the first game in Spring Training, but Reds infielder Kyle Farmer did something in Cincinnati’s spring opener that he’s never done before in an MLB game: leading off to start the game.
Farmer hit first and played shortstop in the Reds game on Sunday against Cleveland, and none of Cincinnati’s expected lead-off candidates were on the travel roster.
Bell says Farmer leading off is a way to ensure he gets extra at-bats with his redesigned swing.
“We want Kyle to get as many at-bats as possible,” Bell said. “We have a lot of players that we want to mix in at the shortstop position. Limited innings in the game, so one of the reasons why Kyle is leading off today, we just want to give him as many at-bats as possible. He’s worked really hard all winter. A little bit of a different approach at the plate. Getting his timing may be more important than another one of our players.”
How Bell manages Spring Training innings
The Reds Spring Training opener was shortened to an eight inning game, and Bell said he’s already communicated with opposing managers to schedule game lengths for the rest of the week.
“It’s really all about the pitching,” Bell said. “There might be a day where we have nine innings, and the other team only has seven or eight, and in that case, we’ll just play seven or eight, because you have to be able to communicate and cooperate and make it work. It’s been pretty easy so far.”