When Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Vladimir Gutierrez was 18 years old, he pitched in a World Cup-style tournament in Cuba. In the highest-pressure situation of his young baseball career, Gutierrez won the game.
“From there on out, I never really thought of any playoff things,” Gutierrez said via interpreter Jorge Merlos. “For me, it’s that I have that confidence and I’m going to continue with that confidence throughout the rest of the time and the rest of this playoff run as well.”
Down to the fifth starter, the Reds starting rotation has a staff of pitchers with experience in meaningful games.
Since May, the Reds starting rotation has been intact and mostly followed the same order. The Reds have two former Opening Day starters in Luis Castillo and Sonny Gray. They have Wade Miley, who has the 12th lowest ERA in MLB this season. They have Tyler Mahle, a five-year veteran who hasn’t missed a start this season, and Gutierrez, who has been one of the most consistent rookie starters in the league this year.
While the Reds are in the middle of a stretch where they have three off days in an 11-day window, Reds manager David Bell said the coaching staff hasn’t discussed mixing up the starting rotation or skipping a pitcher’s start.
“For the most part, I do think there’s some benefit from the off days the rest of the way,” Bell said. “It might just happen where they fall into play everywhere we need them.”
When the Reds have come off a disappointing loss this season, Bell said the Reds starting rotation has prevented any negative momentum from snowballing. In August, the Reds starting rotation made 18 quality starts. Four of the five starters in the rotation made at least three quality starts. Gray only had two quality starts, but he finished the month with a 2.93 ERA.
“It really starts with our starting pitching, and our starting pitching has been really consistent,” Bell said. “It’s been something we can count on. It’s not going to be every night, but for the most part, they’ve done a great job. They give us a chance to win every night.”
While Gutierrez has had his two shortest starts of the season in his last two appearances, Bell said it’s important to keep his entire rookie season in perspective. Gutierrez allowed five runs in three innings last week, and he allowed four runs in 3 ⅓ innings on Friday against the Detroit Tigers.
But before that, Gutierrez had a 1.67 ERA over his previous five starts.
“He has had, really, a solid season,” Bell said. “He has come up huge for us. Keep that all in mind and realize where he’s at. You can see the end now. It really becomes something where he doesn’t have that many more starts left. He can give everything he has and get back on track here.”
Entering Saturday’s game against the Tigers, the Reds have 26 games remaining in the regular season, which would mean five or six starts left for the starting pitchers. While the Reds have off days on Sept. 9 and Sept. 13, Cincinnati has a stretch of 13 consecutive days with games in the middle of the month.
“I just don’t want to take any of that negative mentality to my next few starts,” Gutierrez said. “I want to do my best. I want to do the best for this team, for the fans out there as well.”
LINE CHANGE: With expanded rosters in September, the Reds have a seven-man bench for the first time all season. In two of the Reds first three games this month, Bell has used almost his entire bench.
On Wednesday, Bell used four pinch-hitters in a single inning and then subbed in defensive replacements. In Friday’s 15-5 loss to the Tigers, shortstop Kyle Farmer and second baseman Jonathan India were the only starters in the game in the ninth inning.
“(The bench players) are players that are a big part of our team,” Bell said. “They're guys that I want in the lineup on a daily basis. When we're, in this case, facing a left-hander, I choose to start more of a right-handed lineup because of my belief in their ability to do damage from that side of the plate, the right-handed side of the plate. That creates a bench of players that I really want in the lineup also.”
INJURY UPDATE: Outfielder Nick Senzel hasn’t played since May with a knee injury, and after a setback in August he might not play again for a while.
Bell said Senzel got another opinion on his knee and is rehabbing in Arizona.
“It seems that it’s going to take a while for him to get back and healthy,” Bell said. “I don’t know what that means for the rest of the season, but it didn’t sound like it was going to be any time real soon.”