Bronson Arroyo is my favorite Cincinnati Red of the last 12 years. He's embodied things I value. Consistency. Honesty. Likability. He was a big part of the franchise's return to relevance, and I've been rooting for him to find a way to end his career on his terms. I've also been rooting for him to pitch for the Reds in 2017.
Right now, it looks like there's a very good chance that we'll see that happen. Bryan Price told reporters in Arizona yesterday that Bronson is loosely scheduled to pitch against the Cardinals in St. Louis next Saturday. He'll throw in an intrasquad game in Arizona this Sunday, and if all goes well, Bronson Arroyo will be back on a big league mound the following weekend for the first time since 2014. That in itself would represent a successful comeback.
But Bronson pitching for the Reds in games that matter always seemed based on whether he earned that chance based on how he fared in games that don't. Obviously, spring training results need to be contextualized, and nearly every pitcher will tell you that how the batters fare is less important than things like how the hurler feels, how mechanics are developing, and the way they're physically responding to being on the mound.
Still though, Bronson threw fewer than eight innings this spring to big league hitters. His appearance in a minor league spring training game featured three consecutive home runs hit off of him. It took until nearly the second week of March to throw to actual batters, he had a setback when he was dinged by a throw from Devin Mesoraco, and while Bronson would probably be the first to admit that he's not able to perform at the level needed to hold down a spot in a Major League rotation, I'm, well, a little skeptical.
And happy to ultimately have my skepticism prove to be unfounded.
They're putting Robert Stephenson in the bullpen, which is a curious move. There are hundreds of examples of young pitchers who served time in the bullpen that eventually became starters. That seems likely with Stephenson, but given the number of high-profile arms the Reds had pegged as starters before moving them into relief roles and keeping them there, what's going to happen long term. If Stephenson thrives in relief, do they keep him there? If he struggles out of the bullpen, can they really give him a bigger workload as a starter? If the rotation is going to be as fluid as many expect, doesn't it make sense that, if he's not going to be begin the season in the big league rotation, to have him stretched out making starts in Louisville?
I don't know the answers to these questions, but they are good, far questions.
Same with Cody Reed. He was massacred in his most recent Cactus League start, but until then had authored a pretty nice spring. The word from Goodyear was that Reed is "scheduled for a start down the road." OK, so is he starting the season in the bullpen? Does he get sent to Louisville to start once Bronson is added to the roster? And if he is, do the Reds use him in relief in the intervening games between now and next Saturday?
What's going to happen if Arroyo struggles? And what will happen with arguably the two highest-profile young pitchers the Reds have when (ok, I'll say it, if) both Anthony DeSclafani and and Homer Bailey return?
I'm not opposed to anything the Reds have decided, and there's a big part of me still willing to defer to Bryan Price's expertise when it comes to pitching, but as much as I root for Bronson Arroyo, I do wonder if he's really deserving of, and ready for, a chance to pitch every fifth day in the big leagues. I wonder if he's proven that he can give the Reds enough quality innings to justify both what they're doing with him and the dominoes that have fallen as a result of penciling him in for a start next Saturday. And I wonder, more with legit interest than doubt, how much the long-term plans for some of their younger starters has changed just in the last few weeks.