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Sunday, August 13, 2006

Ramirez sent to AAA; What Now?

Following his rather abusive treatment by Jerry Narron--seriously, the kid's only 23 years old and you're stressing his arm by pitching him on back to back days? Seriously?--Elizardo Ramirez was demoted to AAA-Louisville tonight. Through July, Elizardo was the Reds' third-best starting pitcher, racking up 10 quality starts in 17 tries. On July 27th, he had one of his best games, which included seven consecutive strikeouts in an 8-4 win over the Houston Astros. Since then, however, he's been shelled in three straight starts...along with that strange relief appearance in the 14-inning game on August 11th. The most notable thing that's happened in his recent bad games is that his control seems to have deserted him, as he's walked more batters than innings pitched in August. Very unusual for the usually pin-point-accurate Ramirez.

He shouldn't be physically tired just yet. The 102 2/3 innings he's pitched this season with the Reds, along with 22 minor-league innings, gives him a total of 124 2/3 innings this season. Last year, he threw about 150 innings between Cincinnati and Louisville, and in '04 he threw almost 140 innings. But he may very well be mentally exhausted. I'm ok with sending him down to help him recover some confidence. Hopefully he will get a few good starts under his belt and then be ready to pitch again for the Reds down the stretch.

His demotion does have me worried about the rotation, though. Right now, the rotation stands as:
1. Harang (sort of struggling)
2. Arroyo (struggling)
3. Milton
4. Lohse
5. ????

I trust Harang to get it back together. Arroyo needs to figure something out and fast, but I'm confident in him as well. Milton feels like a wild card every time he goes out, though to be fair he's pitched somewhere between adequate and very well his last four times out. I'm still not sure what we can expect from Lohse, though I hope he can continue to deliver quality starts most of the time. But the #5 spot is a huge black hole until (unless?) Ramirez can come back. Let's run down some of the options:
  • Paul Wilson and Brandon Claussen are out until next season with injuries. I'm really bummed that Wilson never made it back this year, as a healthy Wilson would be a huge boost right now. Claussen hasn't be right since the season started.
  • If you think like Jerry Narron, Ryan Franklin is an obvious candidate for the job given his credentials as a starter the last four years. But he allows just as many fly balls & homers as Milton, and yet gets fewer strike outs. Disaster.
  • I wouldn't be surprised to see Michalak get another start after his performance last night, but his luck will probably run out the next time the Reds put him in a game. Disaster.
  • Belisle should be considered, but probably won't be, as the Reds have been surprisingly (to me at least) disinterested in trying him as a starter again.
  • Gosling is young and has major league starting experience, though he hasn't pitched particularly well in AAA this year (4.36 ERA in 97 IP, 78/49 K/BB...scary walk totals).
  • There's always Joe Mays... Heh, that'd be fun. He's still in the Louisville rotation, which is shocking--I was sure they'd try to convert him to a reliever so he can try to salvage his career.
  • I guess Phil Dumatrait is another option. He's been solid at both Louisville (3.86 ERA, 46/22 K/BB in 70 IP) and Chattanooga (3.62 ERA, 45/22 K/BB) this year. But that'd be jumping him two levels in one year, and might be too much to ask. His K and BB rates already took a hit when he moved up to AAA.
  • Justin Germano (3.69 ERA in 117 IP, 67/22 K/BB at AAA-Louisville this year) sure would be a handy cog right now, eh? But, of course, he's no longer with us.
Seriously, what the heck would you do if you were Krivsky? The Reds are in a playoff run and cannot afford to just give up on every fifth game, especially with the rest of our rotation being as shaky as it is. But I don't see a single viable option here. Do you go with a four-man rotation?

...There is Homer Bailey. I didn't ever think I'd say this, but I think it's worth a shot. Homer has pitched 118 innings this season between Sarasota and Chattanooga, which is still below the maximum limit I've seen quoted for him (~150 IP?). Maybe we should bring him up, keep a close eye on his pitch count in each game, and then shut him down as soon as he hits his maximum inning limit? Elizardo can come back at that point, hopefully.

Bailey may be our only shot right now. Yes, I know, you have to worry about injuring the kid or otherwise screwing him up. But the Reds are trying to make it into the playoffs for the first time in ELEVEN years. It's mid-August, and we're 2.5 games back of the Cards and lead the wild card by 0.5 games. Really, what's the difference between bringing him up now versus bringing him up next year around this time. Does one year make such a difference?

To me, this is when you go for it with everything you have. And Homer probably gives us our best (only?) chance to win among all the potential #5 rotation candidates right now. So let's all cross our collective fingers and give the kid a shot.