Cincinnati Reds pitchers will work out for the first time with new pitching coach Derek Johnson on Feb. 13. But it will be far from the first time he’s communicated with them.
There’s an ongoing group text. He’s sending them videos to watch. The coaching has begun.
At Saturday’s Reds Caravan stop at the Air Force Museum, Sal Romano and Cody Reed said they spoke with Johnson on the phone soon after he was hired away from the Milwaukee Brewers by new manager David Bell.
“He’s a great guy,” Romano said. “For him to leave Milwaukee and come here, I think that speaks a lot about the manager that we have now.”
Johnson’s reputation as a pitching coach grew last year with the Brewers. He took a staff without a No. 1 starter and helped the Brewers win 96 games and the NL Central.
“I’m really, really excited to be able to pick his brain and make my game better,” Reed said.
The Reds have a similar staff to what the Brewers had last year. They’ve added experienced starters Alex Wood and Tanner Roark and presumably Sonny Gray in a pending trade with the New York Yankees. Luis Castillo is expected to be in the rotation again. But who will be the No. 5 starter? The obvious candidates – in no particular order – are Romano, Reed, Tyler Mahle and Anthony DeSclafani. How that all works itself out in spring training will be watched closely.
Reed and Romano got experience as relievers last year and could well be in those roles when the Reds break camp. They both think of themselves as starters, but they both said whatever it takes to make the team and help the team win is primary.
“This is a comeback year for me,” said Romano, who opened last season in the rotation before moving to the bullpen. “I’m really motivated to be in the best shape I’ve ever been in. I want to be there, be happy with it and also pitch well.”
Reed has been up and down between Cincinnati and AAA Louisville since June of 2016. He has one minor-league option left. He appeared in 17 games for the Reds last year, including seven starts. The two he made late in the season have given him confidence heading to Arizona.
“I think it’s going to be a good fresh start for all of us,” he said. “In the offseason I always go in to be a starter, so that’s what I’ve been doing this offseason.”
Whatever pitching staff decisions are made, the Reds enter this season with actual depth. If a starter or two goes on the disabled list or has to skip a start, there are pitchers like Reed and Romano to step in. The Reds won’t have to sign a free agent nobody else wants or bring up a AAA pitcher who isn’t ready or isn’t seen as a true prospect.
And Romano said he’s not worried about his future because of the additions to the starting rotation.
“I’m going to pick their minds,” he said. “They’ve got experience and a lot of success in the major leagues, so that’s going to be huge for me.”
The pitching additions are reason for the players to be optimistic, but they are also happy about the organizational shift toward analytics. Bell’s hiring signaled that shift along with the additions of Johnson and hitting coach Turner Ward. They’ve also created the roles of game-planning coach, which will be handled by Jeff Pickler, and hitting assessment and run production coach. That position went to 30-year-old Cody Atkinson. He will work with major- and minor-league players.
“With the analytics it’s a part of this game now,” Romano said. “It’s kind of got away from the old-school stuff. Stats don’t lie is basically what they’re saying.
“Everyone’s open to listening. These guys have a lot knowledge in this game and lot of experience.”