Battle for Reds’ fifth starter intensifying

Reds starter Sal Romano pitches against the Padres on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff

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Reds starter Sal Romano pitches against the Padres on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2017, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff

There are two position races in Cincinnati Reds’ spring training camp and they are starting to intensify.

Sal Romano, Tyler Mahle and Robert Stephenson are trying to lock down the fifth starting job in the Reds’ rotation.

»HAL MCCOY: Reds shouldn’t guarantee rotation spots

Amir Garrett has pitched himself into the picture and Michael Lorenzen is trying to work himself out of the bullpen, but he will pitch in Cincinnati. The only question is which role.

Center fielder Billy Hamilton has struggled with the bat so far. He is in a battle for more playing time with Scott Schebler and Ben Revere.

Romano’s quest

Romano had his third good outing on Saturday night against the Seattle Mariners. He pitched four scoreless innings, striking out seven. The Mariners managed a hit and a walk but flailed at Romano’s breaking ball in the dirt, a pitch location that he and catcher Devin Mesoraco were working on against Seattle.

Romano was the first pitcher to finish four innings this spring

Has he done enough to make show the Reds that he’s ready for the rotation?

“My only goal this spring was to walk into the office on the last day to have them tell me I’m going to Cincinnati,” Romano said. “I will be ready for whatever they have in mind for me. I’m just going to go out and keep pitching.”

Romano was so efficient that he went to the bullpen to throw some pitches to build arm strength.

“He had a really nice approach. He stayed ahead of the hitters,” Reds manager Bryan Price said.

Stephenson improves

When Stephenson’s first two outings were clunkers, Price predicted that Stephenson would regain his fastball command.

In his three-inning stint against Colorado on Thursday, Stephenson was much better. He had shaken a stiff neck the put him a little behind the others.

“It fastball command was definitely was a lot better,” he said. “The off-speed stuff was working better too. The last time out I couldn’t put guys away with it.”

Stephenson doesn’t know what caused stiffness in his neck that cost him a week. He wasn’t able to move his head to either side without pain.

“I have a good pillow,” he said. “I woke up one morning and it was stiff. It just nagged on longer than I expected it too. For a week they wouldn’t let me do much.”

Mahle makes his case

Tyler Mahle has been impressive in all his appearances. His challenge was to improve a slider and change-up to go with a fastball that changes speeds and locations.

“His deceptiveness is what makes him tough on hitters,” Price said. “They don’d find the release point. He understands what pitches to throw to get the results he wants. He is like Johnny Cueto in that he knows the location, speed and shape of a pitch to get the results he wants. Sometimes it is to get weak contact or when he needs to a swing and miss. Usually the last thing that shows up in a young pitcher is command of the fastball. Mahle’s command is ahead of most pitchers his age.”

Hamilton struggles

Hamilton’s defense saves the Reds so many runs with his speed and arm. He has already made some diving catches this spring. Hamilton was also second in the Major Leagues to teammate Adam Duvall in throwing out runners with 13.

His bat has been another story and his ability to get on base is in question, as well as his long-term health. Hamilton plays hard with his slight build and continues to dive for balls and runs into fences at a high rate of speed.

The later reason is why Price is committed to a four-man outfield. Hamilton’s offense is his other drawback.

“Billy has to hit with a clear head,” Price said. “Right now he just has to go out there and compete, get back to being a baseball player.”

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