It's already the first week of June, but Mat Latos has yet to throw a pitch for the Cincinnati Reds this season. Although the rotation has held its own during his absence, his return will have some effects on the entire pitching staff.
Since coming to Cincinnati two seasons ago, Latos has turned into the stud pitcher the Reds had hoped for. The right-hander has gone 28-11 with a 3.32 ERA and a 1.186 WHIP in 65 starts with the club. He has thrown at least 209 innings in each of the two seasons since the trade.
Unfortunately, Latos was injured at the worst possible time last season. There is no doubt that he would have gotten the ball in the Wild Card Game, but bone chips in his elbow forced him to miss the start.
Latos had elbow surgery to clean up the bone chips shortly after the season ended, and he spent the offseason rehabbing to get ready for 2014-15. It looked like he would be ready for the start of the season until the week pitchers and catchers reported to camp in the spring. The 26-year-old slipped while throwing and required knee surgery.
After having a setback during a rehab assignment in April, Latos is finally on track to make his season debut in the next week or two.
Reds fans everywhere should celebrate Latos' return when it happens, as it will help both the rotation and the bullpen. Manager Bryan Price will have to determine whether Alfredo Simon or Tony Cingrani moves to the bullpen when Latos finally returns. Although it's a good problem to have, it will be a tough decision.
Let's take a look at who, between Simon and Cingrani, has made the best statement to stay in the rotation when Latos returns.
The case for Alfredo Simon
The numbers speak for themselves. Simon has out-pitched Cingrani this season, and it hasn't really been close.
Simon leads the Reds with seven wins. He has posted a 3.03 ERA and a 1.112 WHIP in 68.1 innings over 11 starts.
Some of Simon's splits are just incredible. He is 6-1 with a 2.44 ERA on the road. He has held right-handers to a .212 average and given up only two home runs to them. Once he gets past the fourth inning, he is as good as it gets. He has yet to allow a run after the fourth inning, which spans 25.2 innings.
Going deep into games is what helps the team the most, so take a look at how each of the two contenders has done in that department this season. Simon has averaged more than six innings per outing and has failed to reach that point only twice this season. Cingrani, on the other hand, has averaged just more than 5.1 innings per start this season. Giving a team quality innings not only keeps it in that game, but it helps save the bullpen for the long run.
Simon has turned in a quality start in nine of his 11 outings. Check out his lines for those games:
|Alfredo Simon's Quality Starts in 2014|
|April 6||at New York Mets||7||1||4 (0)||1||6|
|April 12||Tampa Bay Rays||8||1||5 (1)||1||4|
|April 18||at Chicago Cubs||6||1||4 (0)||2||3|
|April 23||at Pittsburgh Pirates||6.2||2||4 (1)||5||4|
|April 29||Chicago Cubs||6||2||5 (0)||2||5|
|May 4||Milwaukee Brewers||7||3||5 (2)||1||0|
|May 16||at Philadelphia Phillies||7.2||0||5 (0)||1||8|
|May 21||at Washington Nationals||7||1||5 (1)||1||6|
|June 1||at Arizona Diamondbacks||6.1||3||7 (0)||1||4|
Although Simon's numbers alone are enough to keep him in the rotation, the poor performance of others could create a need for Cingrani in the bullpen.
The southpaws in the Reds bullpen have struggled mightily this season. Sean Marshall has allowed left-handers to hit .500 off him and has a 9.28 ERA through 12 games this season. Left-handed batters are hitting .273 off Manny Parra, which is 14 points higher than right-handers.
Until either Marshall or Parra is able to right the ship, Cincinnati needs to find a southpaw who can get crucial outs late in games. That is where Cingrani would be valuable once Latos comes back. Left-handers have hit only .217 off the youngster this season, which comes a season after he held them to a .186 average.
Simon has pitched well enough to give Price the option of sending Cingrani to the bullpen to try to solve the team's left-handed woes. Plus, keeping Simon in the rotation will also allow him to build on his value should the club try to trade him at the deadline.
The case for Tony Cingrani
Entering the 2014 MLB season, the Reds were hoping to see Cingrani develop his secondary pitches enough to build on a strong rookie season.
The southpaw went 7-4 with a 2.77 ERA and a 1.038 WHIP in 18 starts in 2013. He did that by using his fastball 81 percent of the time, according to FanGraphs.
Now, Cingrani is getting a chance to show what he can do as a full-time member of the rotation.
The second-year player has used his secondary pitches more often this season, as his fastball usage has dropped below 73 percent. It was good enough to get him through April looking good. He did not allow more than three earned runs in any of his first six starts.
Also, the Reds have seen what Simon and Cingrani can do out of the bullpen. Simon has posted a 2.66 ERA and a 2.87 ERA out of the bullpen the last two seasons, and Cingrani allowed four runs on seven hits and seven walks in 7.1 innings out of the bullpen last season.
Cingrani, unlike Simon, figures to be a part of the Reds rotation for years to come. The 24-year-old dazzled as a rookie, and the team has high hopes for him as its other starting pitchers become too expensive to hold on to. Moving him to the bullpen wouldn't help him grow as a starter, so Price and the Reds might be better off in the long run by letting Cingrani stay in the rotation when Latos returns.
It's a tough call, but the signs point to Simon staying in the rotation and Cingrani getting bumped to the bullpen when Latos returns.
Price's decision could already be made. Latos' next rehab start is scheduled for Wednesday, according to MLB.com's Mark Sheldon, which just happens to be the same day that Cingrani pitches for the Reds. Simon isn't scheduled to pitch again Saturday, so Latos would not be on schedule if Simon were to get moved back to the bullpen.
Latos threw 81 pitches in his second rehab start and could reach 100 pitches in his next start. If all goes well, he could be back with the team by next week.
As of now, it appears that Simon's strong start to the season will be enough to keep him in the rotation for the time being. Cincinnati was likely going to try to limit Cingrani's innings this season. Although he has already been on the disabled list, moving him to the bullpen for a bit could help limit his innings even more.
Cingrani spent very little time in the bullpen last season, so don't be scared off by the underwhelming numbers he posted during his stint as a reliever in 2013.
Cincinnati needs left-handed help in the bullpen, so it makes more sense to move Cingrani, not Simon, to the pen for the time being.
The Reds will finally be getting back to full strength once Latos returns, so fans will get a chance to see what this team can do.
*All stats are via MLB.com.