Reds Notes: Marte, Candelario, Rotation

Reds Notes: Marte, Candelario, Rotation

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The Reds’ offense has underwhelmed as a whole this season — as have many lineups around the game — entering play Thursday with a tepid .226/.307/.372 batting line that clocks in 10% worse than league-average, per wRC+. Cincinnati ranks 13th in the majors in runs scored and 17th in home runs, but that’s largely been a function of situational hitting. Overall, Reds hitters rank 27th in batting average, 19th in on-base percentage and 21st in slugging percentage. They have baseball’s seventh-best walk rate, but also the game’s sixth-highest strikeout rate.

Injuries have played a large role. Matt McLain has been out all season due to shoulder surgery. TJ Friedl has only been able to take 80 plate appearances due to a pair of bad-luck fractures (one in his right wrist, another in his left thumb). Christian Encarnacion-Strand struggled when healthy and is now dealing with both a fracture and ligament damage in his hand, which could cost him the remainder of the season.

Another key factor in the Reds’ offensive struggles has been the absence of third baseman Noelvi Marte, who was hit with an 80-game suspension this spring after testing positive for a banned substance. Marte is gearing up for a return, however. The Reds have played 68 games this season, and the 22-year-old Marte recently went out on a Triple-A assignment to ramp up for his return to play. He’s appeared in two games and gone 3-for-10 with a trio of singles and three strikeouts so far.

Certainly, any time a player is hit with a PED-related ban, their prior offensive performance generates some skepticism among fans. Marte, who hit .316/.366/.456 (120 wRC+) with three homers and seven doubles in 123 plate appearances as a rookie, will have his share of doubters. But he’s long ranked among the game’s most promising prospects and has stunningly consistent results from the minors up through the majors. Marte hit between .271 and .281 at every stop from Low-A, to High-A, to Double-A to Triple-A. His on-base percentage at each of those stops fell between .356 and .369 (lining up with his .366 OBP in last year’s MLB debut). His slugging, similarly, clocked in between .451 and .464.

Marte will be eligible to return to the team later this month and could provide an immediate boost to a club that has seen its third basemen combine to bat just .215/.275/.407. Most of that has been Jeimer Candelario (.226/.294/.494 at the hot corner), though utilityman Santiago Espinal has also played at the hot corner and struggled when there.

Candelario recently spoke with MLB.com’s Mark Sheldon about his early slump this season, preaching the importance of remaining calm and positive during his difficult start to the season. The switch-hitting veteran batted just .189/.282/.379 through the end of April but has since heated up. Over his past 153 trips to the plate, Candelario is slashing .292/.333/.563 with nine homers, ten doubles, a triple, a 5.2% walk rate and a 17.6% strikeout rate.

Manager David Bell praised Candelario’s upbeat nature and even-keel demeanor in the face of his April struggles, telling Sheldon that the glowing reviews of Candelario’s personality and demeanor played into the team’s offseason interest in him. “Everyone we talked to about Jeimer had nothing but positive things to say,” said Bell. “Very important, not only the character in the clubhouse but being a hitter, the stability he provides our lineup.” Catcher Tyler Stephenson offered similar praise about what Candelario has meant to teammates.

Once Marte comes back, Candelario could slide across the diamond and handle first base on a regular basis, stepping in for the injured Encarnacion-Strand and pushing Spencer Steer back to the outfield on a more regular basis. That’d make for a deeper and more consistent lineup.

The offensive side of the game isn’t the only place the Reds have been upended, however. A potentially season-ending shoulder issue for lefty Brandon Williamson and some notable struggles from righty Graham Ashcraft have created uncertainty at the back of the starting rotation as well. While swingman Nick Martinez, who inked a two-year deal worth $26MM over the offseason, is always an option to step into a starting role, it seems the club will give an opportunity to young righty Carson Spiers in the near-term.

Bell said this week that Spiers will step into the rotation Monday (X link via Charlie Goldsmith of the Cincinnati Enquirer). The 26-year-old Spiers has appeared in five games for Cincinnati this season but worked in a multi-inning relief role. In 19 1/3 frames, he’s notched a tidy 2.33 earned run average with a below-average 18.8% strikeout rate against an excellent 5% walk rate. He’s been similarly effective in a starting role down in Triple-A Louisville. Through nine appearances (eight starts), the 6’3″ righty touts a 2.51 ERA with a 25.4% strikeout rate and 7.8% walk rate.

It’s not clear yet whether Spiers will be afforded a long-term audition or whether he’ll be ousted in the event that Ashcraft turns a corner down in Louisville after being optioned, but the undrafted 2020 free agent will have some control over his own fate when he takes the mound Monday at Pittsburgh’s PNC Park to take on the division-rival Pirates.

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