A little before spring ball started, the Cincinnati Reds signed Ryan Madson as the heir apparent to closer Coco Cordero. There was excitement in Reds Country. Fans who had watched the overpaid, overweight, nail-biter closer Cordero were thrilled. It turned out that Madson was damaged goods who never threw in a spring training game and is going to miss the entire 2012 season after Tommy John surgery.
Nick Masset pitched four games before his arm gimped out, and Billy Bray tried to get it together in the last week before the season started. It turns out he was still hurt and is currently on the DL alongside Madson and Masset.
All seemed pretty far from well for Reds fans.
Reds fans were clamoring like Christmas kids at the thought of Aroldis Chapman taking the bump as a starting pitcher. That plan was all-but-nixed by the fallen.
Given his bulletproof success, it's looking like Reds Country is going to have to wait until next season to see Chapman start games.
Chapman has been untouchable. Being a starter by trade, his most overlooked quality is his ability to throw more than an inning out of the pen. It's overlooked for good reason. He's a changed man this year. Reds pitching coach Bryan Price had him work on the former dip in his delivery, and told him to get the ball and just hum it to keep opposing batters off balance.
On the mound in his previous two seasons with the club, Chapman was a lollygagger, taking his merry, sweet time between pitches.
Besides Aroldis, who is the Reds' best reliever?
Price's tweaks have helped "The Cuban Missile" become the most feared pitcher in the game.
Check these crunches: 15.2 innings pitched, five hits allowed, four walks, zero runs—earned or unearned—and 27 strikeouts. He's holding the opponents' batting average to a laughable .097 with a 0.57 WHIP.
Let's leave the Chapman love and move on to Logan Ondrusek, who has been nearly as filthy as Aroldis. Like Chapman, he has yet to yield a run—earned or unearned. In Ondrusek's 13.2 innings of work, he's allowed only six hits and six walks (one intentional). He's held opponents to a .130 batting average and a 0.88 WHIP, striking out 11.
In 29.1 innings of relief work, Chapman and Ondrusek have not allowed a run and have a combined 0.71 WHIP.
When Bray was placed on the DL, J.J. Hoover got the call to join the big club. He's been lights out in limited work, and like Chapman, he is a former starter capable of going more than one inning.
Hoover came over in a steal of a deal four days before the season started. The Atlanta Braves needed some insurance at third and the Reds were more than happy to send Juan Francisco (or as Cliff Eastham dubbed him, "Wily Mo Francisco") in exchange for Hoover. For more on Hoover, check out this article.
On the day before the season was to begin, the Reds signed Alfredo Simon. That move baffled Reds faithful—especially since it meant sending Todd Frazier to Louisville. In spring ball, Frazier led the team with five homers and 15 RBI.
Simon, after a rocky start, has lowered his ERA down to 2.31. Jose Arredondo, when he can get the ball over the dish, is nearly unstoppable. In 13.2 innings, he is holding opponents to a .191 batting average while retaining an ERA of 2.63 with 15 strikeouts.
Current closer Sean Marshall has five saves in six chances. Key words there, "current closer." Don't be at all surprised if Dusty moves Chapman into the closing role within the next couple of weeks, allowing Marshall to retreat back to his more comfortable left-handed setup role.
With the right-handed setup man Ondrusek, the Reds will confidently have the seventh, eighth and ninth innings locked down.
Rounding out the Reds pen is mop-up man Sam LeCure. He's not a bad option for blowout games—either in the Reds favor or the disappointing games when the Reds fall behind by a big score.
As a group, the Reds bullpen leads the NL with a 2.48 ERA (0.23 better than the second place Padres). They lead in batting average against, holding other clubs to a .207 clip. Their number of strikeouts ranks second, two behind Colorado, whose bullpen has pitched 19 more innings than Cincinnati. They trail only St. Louis by 0.03 in WHIP, good for second in the league. And the Reds pen is the only team in the NL with a double digit K-9 ratio, gunning down 10.55 batters per nine.
Besides dominating statistical categories, what does this mean?
Say Mike Leake, Homer Bailey or Mat Latos get shelled early or run up a high pitch count after five, Dusty Baker can rely on any of these guys to come in and keep the Reds in the ballgame.
And even Dusty can't foul that up.