McCoy: Reds right-hander set to make MLB debut vs. Cubs

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Vladimir Gutierrez throws a pitch against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning a spring training baseball game Tuesday, March 9, 2021, in Goodyear, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Vladimir Gutierrez throws a pitch against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning a spring training baseball game Tuesday, March 9, 2021, in Goodyear, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Credit: Ross D. Franklin

Credit: Ross D. Franklin

Vladimir Gutierrez will start Friday’s game in Chicago

Vladimir Gutierrez was in the Louisville airport to pick up his wife and child and was at a car rental kiosk when his cellphone jangled.

It was news that he feared a year ago might not ever come.

Gutierrez, a Cuban-born right handed pitcher, was informed that he will be the starting pitcher for the Cincinnati Reds on Friday afternoon in Wrigley Field against the Chicago Cubs.

It will be his major league debut.

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Gutierrez, 25, was supposed to start for the Class AAA Louisville Bats on Tuesday, “But they told me you are not starting on Tuesday, you’re starting on Friday against the Cubs in Chicago,” he said.

“I became very emotional, tears were running down my eyes and I quickly called my mom and a coach I worked with in Miami,” he said. “I couldn’t be more excited to do this.”

It is a full-blown comeback for Gutierrez because he thought his career was blown when spring training was suspended in March of last year.

He was suspended 80 games for testing positive for a performance-enhancing drug called Stanozolol. He feared his career was in jeopardy, but the Reds stuck by him, encouraged him and gave him all the help he required.

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When his suspension in April, Gutierrez reported to Louisville where he was 2- 0 with a 2.65 earned run average. In 17 innings he struck out 21 and walked seven.

And now he is a stand-in in the Reds rotation for Wade Miley, who is on the injured list.

Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Vladimir Gutierrez throws a pitch against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning a spring training baseball game Tuesday, March 9, 2021, in Goodyear, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
Cincinnati Reds starting pitcher Vladimir Gutierrez throws a pitch against the Los Angeles Dodgers during the first inning a spring training baseball game Tuesday, March 9, 2021, in Goodyear, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

Credit: Ross D. Franklin

Credit: Ross D. Franklin

Gutierrez said his planned triumphant return began in the offseason, “Because I had a chip on my shoulder. I thought it was time for me to get back to where I was. It is time for me to be Vladimir Gutierrez that I know I was and everybody knows that I was. From that point on, I was able to get on a roll and pitch well.”

Pitching coach Derek Johnson made Gutierrez a special project this spring, mostly encouragement and positive re-enforcement.

“At the beginning of spring training, he saw what I had,” said Gutierrez. “My fastball (mid-90s) was good but my slider was a little bit softer. But he told me, ‘You know what? Just use your slider like you don’t have any fear of it. Don’t be afraid to use it, because it works’

“And so I took that with me and kept working on it and now my slider is good, my curveball is good and it has really been paying off,” he said.

“After everything that happened last year, I just told myself, ‘You know what I have to be more mature mentally.’

“I had to say, ‘OK, this is me. I’m Vladimir Gutierrez.’ I’m a hard thrower. I have th stuff that can contribute to a team and I can do that. I’m going to do this. I’m going to really try hard this year and be a better pitcher.”

He worked with a trainer in Miami in the offseason after pitching in the Dominican Winter League.

He is so thankful he called the trainer and said, “I don’t think I’ve ever prepared myself to feel this good throughout the year.”

We keep in contact and I told him, “Hey, brother, I’ve never felt like this before. I feel so much better than in previous years.”

His minor league numbers before his start this season are not glossy. In three seasons at Class A Daytona, Class AA Pensacola and Class AAA Louisville, he was 22-29 with a 4.29 earned run average.

There was no 2020 minor league season — and he was suspended anyway — but at Louisville in 2019 he was 6-11 in 27 starts with a 6.04 earned run average. In 137 innings he struck out 117, walked 48, gave up 26 home runs and balked six times.

And now Gutierrez, rated the Reds No. 14 prospect by MLB.com, takes his act to the sometimes Unfriendly Confines of Wrigley Field.