End of the Votto Staccato: Joey Hot Amidst Reds Persistent Struggles

Another week is in the books for the Cincinnati Reds, as we inch closer and closer to the All-Star break. The Reds played every day last week, from June 27 to July 3, in a three-game series with the Chicago Cubs and then a four game series with the Washington Nationals. In total the Reds went 1-6, with a -36 run differential in the six games they lost for an average loss of six runs per game.

That brings the Reds to a record of 30-53, twenty-two games behind the Cubs in the NL Central, fifteen games behind the second wild card spot, and third-worst in all of baseball in front of just the Atlanta Braves and the Minnesota Twins. Despite the Reds persistent struggles, there have once again been bright spots to compliment the ugly growing pains.

End of the Votto Staccato: Joey Hot Amidst Reds Persistent Struggles

Trusting in Cuba

The Reds have had success in signing Cuban prospects and they hope to continue that pattern, as they signed shortstop Alfredo Rodriguez to a $7 million contract on Saturday. Rodriguez is ranked by MLB.com as the sixth-best international prospect. He comes to Cincinnati a little more mature and MLB ready than the majority of 16- and 17-year-old international prospects that found teams in the United States recently, as Rodriguez is already 22 years old.

His bat lacks pop and anything resembling consistency, but his 6.6-second sixty meter dash time shows that he is an athletic infielder with impressive physical talent. He was named the 2014-2015 Rookie of the Year and Cuba and also won a Gold Glove in Serie Nacional. He has a fantastic highlight reel that shows off his flashy and keen defensive prowess.

His speed and glove come first and are strong enough to warrant such a steep price from the Reds. His bat is supposedly improving, and the chances of development look good with some time in the minors. However, it is almost certain that he will never offer much in the way of power-hitting.

Joey is Feeling Like its 2010 Again

Joey Votto took twenty-three at-bats in the past week, and he looked All-Star caliber yet again. He went 8-23 for a .348 average, hit two doubles, three home runs, stole one base, struck out just three times, and walked six times. That means he had a strikeout percentage of just 10.3% and a walk percentage of 21%, with an extra-base hit rate of 17% in the last week. Votto’s current total batting average sits at .253, but everything about his play of late has been spectacular.

He has already hit fourteen home runs and stolen six bases in seven attempts for a power/speed number of 8.4 and an isolated power figure of .202. He had a horrendous start to the season, with a .229/.327/.313 slash line in April. He improved his power hitting in May, with no help to his overall contact hitting, by knocking seven home runs for a .484 slugging percentage but an ugly average of .200.

In June, however, Votto looked like an MVP at the plate. He hit five home runs, stole five bases in five attempts, and produced a phenomenal slash line of .319/.466/.549 in ninety-one at-bats. With an OBP of .483 and SLG of .826 in the last seven days, Votto has provided a much needed sigh of relief for Reds fans, who had taken note that he is under contract in Cincinnati until 2023 to the tune of $225 million.

Homer Eyeing His Return

After undergoing Tommy John surgery in 2015 and suffering several rehab setbacks, Homer Bailey continues his path back to the mound in Great American Ball Park. Bailey tossed two innings for the Louisville Bats on Saturday and allowed one earned run and five hits, while striking out one batter. He is focusing on a safe and steady recovery while taking note of his improving comfort level and overall strength of his pitches with each consecutive start in the minor leagues.

In four rehab starts with Double-A Pensacola and Triple-A Louisville, Bailey has tossed 10.2 innings and produced a 5.06 ERA and 1.97 WHIP. He’s allowed 2.5 HR/9, but owns encouraging BB/9 and K/9 figures of 3.4 and 9.3, respecitvely. Given that he is 30 years old and is under contract with the Reds until 2019 with a $105 million dollar bill attached, the Reds are certainly hoping to start getting their money’s worth on the pitcher who has tossed two no-hitters since 2007.

Quick Hits from Week 13

Barnhart Impresses

Tucker Barnhart went 9-20, including two doubles, for a .450 batting average in the past week, along with a stolen base. Barnhart has had five doubles in his past eight games and has made vast offensive progress since his horrific start. He started nicely in April with a .308/.372/.385 slash line in just thirty-nine at-bats, but then struggled badly in eighty-two May at-bats with a .195/.241/.305 performance. He recovered in June by hitting .281/.378/.406 in sixty-four at-bats, and he has been red-hot to start the July fireworks with a 1.478 total OPS in his first nine tries.

Peraza Needs Work

Jose Peraza hit just .222 in eighteen at-bats last week to lower his season total to .246 with a .527 OPS. Peraza has yet to find a rhythm at the plate and hasn’t even gotten an extra-base hit. On the bright side, he has already stolen seven bases with 100% efficiency and hasn’t been looking foolish at the plate, with a strikeout percentage of just 14%. The 22-year-old Venezuelan prospect has a lot of work to do before anyone knows whether he is a good return in the Todd Frazier trade.

Hoover Struggles

While few Reds pitchers had a good week, no one had a worse go of it than J.J. Hoover once again. He appeared once last week and pitched one inning against the Cubs, in which he allowed five earned runs, three hits, two walks, and a home run. This outing raised his season ERA and WHIP to 13.50 and 2.20, respectively. Hoover was optioned to Triple-A Louisville on Wednesday to see if he can figure out why he has had such nightmarish results this season, such as his lowered velocity or increased hard hit ball rate.

Reed Also Struggles, but Shows Positive Signs

Cody Reed also got nailed by the might Cubs offense, allowing seven earned, nine hits, and three home runs in just four innings. One the bright side, he did strike out five batters in those four innings, giving him a K/9 of 10.42 in his four starts, and didn’t walk a batter last Wednesday. The bad news about that is that instead of walking, the Cubs just blasted balls out of the park. The top-tier prospect has a 9.47 ERA and a 1.84 WHIP, with an extremely high 3.9 HR/9 and a middle-of-the-road 3.32 BB/9. He is averaging 92.7 mph on his fastball, with a peak of 96.4 mph, and is tossing his slider at an average clip of 86.8 mph and a max of 90.4 mph.

Reed’s key to success may be to rely more on his nasty slider. In his best performance this year, he allowed four earned runs, six hits, and three walks, with nine strikeouts, against the Houston Astros in Minute Maid Park. In that start, he tossed his fastball 54.4% of the time and was able to reach a greater average velocity (93.6 mph) due to the infrequency of hard throws. He threw his slider 39.1% oof the time, at an average speed of 87.8 mph. In his bad outings against the San Diego Padres and the Cubs, he threw his fastball more frequently (64.4% and 60.6% of the time, respectively) at slower rates of 92.2 and 92.7 mph. Consequently, he threw his slider less frequently (32.7% and 26.8% of the time, respectively) and reached reduced average speeds of 86.9 and 87.1 mph.

Closer Change Not Coming Just Yet

Raisel Iglesias continued his role of pitching multiple innings in relief by pitching 4.1 innings last week. He recorded zero earned runs, two walks, five strikeouts, and just one hit allowed, bringing his 2016 totals to a 3.03 ERA, a 1.32 WHIP, 9.1 K/9, and a disciplined 2.52 BB/9. Tony Cingrani also experienced a nice stretch last week, with 3.2 scoreless innings and just one hit allowed. This gives Cingrani a 4.2 scoreless inning streak. He has allowed just one hit, and improved his walk rate with just two allowed in that span. While there is some speculation that Iglesias or the hard-throwing Michael Lorenzen could take over the save situations as the season progresses, improvement for the 26-year old Cingrani is a welcome sight.

All-Star Break Approaches

The All-Star break is seven days away and ends in eleven days, on July 15. That means the Cincinnati Reds have six games to play before the unofficial mid-way point of the baseball season. More importantly, it means there are twenty-seven days and twenty-one games to be played until the MLB trade deadline. With young players struggling, learning, and developing as more veteran pieces work to return from injury, recover their stride, or boost their trade value, it should be an interesting few weeks in the Queen City.

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