Sports Today: Reds rotation issues, Dragons crushing competition, NBA playoffs

LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 25:  Robert Stephenson #55 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches against the Chicago Cubs during their exhibition game at Cashman Field on March 25, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Cubs won 11-7.  (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

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LAS VEGAS, NV - MARCH 25: Robert Stephenson #55 of the Cincinnati Reds pitches against the Chicago Cubs during their exhibition game at Cashman Field on March 25, 2017 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The Cubs won 11-7. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

The Reds got off to a good start before being bombed 12-3 by the Pirates last night.

That Scott Feldman and Robert Stephenson were the worst offenders on another bad night for the Reds pitching staff is interesting.

The Reds are kind of in a damned-if-they-do-damned-if-they-don’t situation with the starting rotation.

RELATED: Pirates rally to win in Cincinnati

The rookies have proven why Cincinnati wanted to plug a veteran such as Feldman into the rotation (and why they signed Bronson Arroyo) rather than just give their five best young arms the ball and not look back.

With health playing a role in some cases, Brandon Finnegan, Rookie Davis, Cody Reed and Sal Romano have all turned in at least one short start that put the bullpen behind the eight ball, and all of them have displayed problems throwing strikes consistently.

Amir Garrett has had one bad outing, failing to make it through the fourth inning of a loss at Milwaukee on April 24, but he’s been great otherwise.

RELATED: Garrett says Reds are capable of amazing things 

Meanwhile, Feldman has only pitched more than five innings in two of his five starts, so he’s not exactly saving the bullpen, either. Any start he makes has no value for the future of the franchise so if he’s not making life easier today, there’s not much point in having him around.

Then there is Stephenson.

The Reds’ No. 1 draft choice in 2011 was pretty good in 2013 (including 14 starts in Dayton) but has posted very underwhelming numbers since.

RELATED: Anthony DeSlafani making progress in elbow rehab 

Stephenson doesn’t deserve a spot in the Reds rotation based on his performance, but he might be too bored with Triple-A to focus there (human nature being what it is) so keeping him on the major-league roster has merit even though he hasn’t proven he can be trusted in high-leverage situations later in games, either.

That leaves long relief, a role with unique challenges he certainly hasn’t mastered yet.

Pitching sporadically, Stephenson has allowed a run in all but one of his six appearances. He’s walked 10 in 10 1/3 innings.

The answer there is not to “reward” the youngster with a spot in the rotation so he can get on a routine.

Whether he is starting or coming out of the pen — be it in Cincinnati our Louisville — he’s got to get his mind right and trust the physical stuff will take care of itself. Whatever challenges there are to that… so be it.

READ MORE at the Cus Words Blog

Mental toughness is something the roster has lacked since the last good run started for the Reds. For all the good things Dusty Baker did to help lots of players reach their potential, that was where his teams plateaued and his successor has done nothing to change it.

They’ve got to draw a line in the sand at some point…

Speaking of Dayton, the Dragons are rolling again. 

They beat Beloit 4-1 last night to run their winning streak to five games.

The pitching staff has allowed only one earned run during that span, and Dayton’s aggregate score is 34-3.

Pretty good.

Michael Beltre, Brantley Bell, Tyler Stephenson, Louis Gonzalez and T.J. Friedl are all putting together strong offensive seasons for the Dragons while three starters (Wennington Romero, Scott Moss and Tony Santillan) have an ERA of 3.13 or better…

I still don't know if the Boston Celtics or Washington Wizards can really challenge LeBron James and the Cavaliers in the Eastern Conference, but they appear determined to entertain us in their second round series.

Isaiah Thomas scored 53 points in a 129-119 overtime win for the Cs last night.

He is a joy to watch, throwing his 5-9 frame around in the paint and splashing jumpers from the outside.

The Wizards have plenty of firepower, too, and though I loved watching the Bulls dominate in the 1990s, it is nice to see teams actually score points now in the NBA postseason.

RELATEDUpdated NBA championship odds after round one of the playoffs

Local gems: Bengals have agreed to terms with rookie free agents from Ohio State and Penn State… Dayton women's basketball coach Shauna Green signed a pair of new recruits for the upcoming season… Tom Archdeacon on a former NFL player from Central State making good on a promise to his mother... What the NFL draft TV ratings tell us.

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