Cincinnati Reds: Offseason moves create competition for Mahle

Reds starter Tyler Mahle pitches against the Rockies on Thursday, June 7, 2018, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff
Reds starter Tyler Mahle pitches against the Rockies on Thursday, June 7, 2018, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff

Tyler Mahle isn’t a forgotten man but the offseason deals the Cincinnati Reds made for starting pitching put a speed bump in his path.

Mahle, a 24-year-old right-hander, is competing with more experienced competition this spring. The Reds traded for starting pitchers Sonny Gray, Alex Wood and Tanner Roark to head up the team’s starting rotation. Holdovers Anthony DeSclafani and Luis Castillo are expected to man the other spots in the rotation.

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Reds’ management is stretching out the younger prospects to pitch three or four innings by the end of spring to either start games or work out of the bullpen. Mahle, Sal Romano, Brandon Finnegan, Michael Lorenzen and Robert Stephenson are in that group.

The Reds have committed to keeping Mahle as a starter but it may be in Louisville, at least early in the season.

“Mahle will start in the Louisville rotation if he doesn’t make the big league rotation,” President of Baseball Operations Dick Williams said.

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Mahle became the talk of the Reds’ organization in 2017 when he pitched a perfect game for Pensacola . He spent his first full season as a pro with the Dayton Dragons in 2015. He made 26 starts for the Dragons, finishing 13-8 with a 2.43 ERA.

The rise to the Major Leagues was rapid after that. He made four starts for the Reds at the end of 2017 and was 1-2 with a 2.70 ERA.

It was a mixed bag for Mahle last season. He made the starting rotation out of spring training and was one of three rookie pitchers on the staff on Opening Day.

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Mahle was poised to anchor a Reds young staff last season. His first start brought promise. He pitched six scoreless innings against the Chicago Cubs on April 2. In June, Mahle won four straight games and was 5-1 with a 2.18 ERA.

But fatigue set in. Mahle’s fastball, no matter how well placed, got hit hard. His weakness, the lack of a breaking ball, started to become a problem.

Mahle was leading the Reds with seven wins when they sent him down to Louisville on Aug. 3.

Mahle made five starts in Louisville (2-1, 2.73 ERA) before the Reds brought him back up with the Bats’ season ended. He lasted just three innings in a Sept. 9 start. He was shut down with shoulder fatigue after that. He finished 7-9 in 23 starts with a 4.98 ERA in 112 innings for the Reds.

Mahle pitched a scoreless inning against Seattle on Monday. He allowed a hit and two walks but struck out two to get out of the inning. He will start Friday night’s game vs. the San Francisco Giants.

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“I’m working mainly on my off-speed pitches,” Mahle said of his approach this spring. “We knew my shoulder was OK. I’m getting reps with my secondary pitches here with batters in the box.”

Whether Mahle starts the season in Louisville or Cincinnati, the Reds expect him to be an important part of the pitching staff.

“I see it as a positive for him. You never know when there will be an opportunity open up,” Reds manager David Bell said. “With Tyler we are certainly starting his progression as a starter but you never know. We see him helping us a lot this year.”


Reds at Giants, 9:05 p.m., MLB Network, 700