The signing of southpaw Jeff Francis to a minor league contract may have been just a footnote in the offseason journals of most Cincinnati Reds fans. They may have dismissed it as a futile attempt to revive a career that looked disheveled.
The big 31-year-old pitcher didn't look at it that way. He came to Goodyear to win a seat on the Reds bench, and I believe he is going to get one.
He has averaged starting 29 games per season since beginning his MLB career with the Colorado Rockies. His 39 walks was the fourth best in MLB pitchers last season with at least 180 innings. So, obviously control is not an issue.
In four appearances thus far he has an ERA of 2.77, which is at least a run and a half better than any other starting pitcher. His WHIP is a microscopic 0.92 and he has eight strikeouts in 13 IP and has yet to walk a batter.
I realize spring training is a time for players to work out their kinks and get themselves in shape for the upcoming season. At the same time, it is impossible not to catch the eye of someone who is performing better than most.
Sam LeCure, who has been with the Reds the past two campaigns, is not fairing well at all this spring. As is the case much too frequently, LeCure is pitching like a man convinced he has nothing to prove.
LeCure who will be 28 in May is having an atrocious spring. His ERA is almost in double-digits and his WHIP is 2.19. Batters are hitting him like Ted Williams and he has given up 17 of them in only eight plus innings.
Even though he has been the designated spot starter and long relief man the past two seasons, he would be a fool if he couldn't hear Francis' foot thuds behind him.
If you had to take one or the other to Cincinnati, which one?
The Reds bullpen is too thick to have two people start the season as possible starters. In my opinion, Francis will be that man who will join the team in Cincinnati.
LeCure has never performed well enough to be considered the "go to" guy. He is a good Triple-A pitcher and a mediocre MLB pitcher at best.
Francis on the other hand, averaged 15 wins a season from 2005-2007. He pitches into the heart of the game and with the bullpen the Reds possess, he could be very valuable. The fact that he is left-handed doesn't hurt anything either. I realize Aroldis Chapman is a southpaw as well, and is enjoying a very fine spring, but he will probably be honing his skills at Louisville, come opening day.
The value of a long relief man need not be minimized nor trivialized. When a starter blows up early, as they at times do (see Bronson Arroyo and Edinson Volquez) it is good to know you have an innings eater who can come in and settle things down.
Keep in mind this is Dusty Baker running the show, need I say more?