Will this bullpen shake-up calm the relief waters?
The series against the Arizona Diamondbacks this week saw the Cincinnati Reds run through a trio of games where they had ample chances to win games late. Unfortunately, it also saw their bullpen grasp defeat from the jaws of victory on all three occasions, a trend that’s become the single biggest reason why they’re no longer atop the standings in the National League Central.
With that as recent memory and with Lucas Sims likely unavailable for a few days after pitching on three consecutive days for the first time in his career, a bullpen shake-up prior to their road trip though St. Louis and Los Angeles seemed inevitable. Inevitability came in the form of call-ups of righties Ryan Hendrix and Heath Hembree, the Reds announced on Friday afternoon, with IF Max Schrock and lefty Cionel Perez optioned to the Reds alternate site in Louisville.
— Cincinnati Reds (@Reds) April 23, 2021
Hendrix will be making his big league debut when he next steps on the mound. The former 5th round pick of the Reds out of Texas A&M has long been viewed as a future bullpen piece and has pitched exclusively as a late-inning reliever in his time in the Reds system, and his slider is the pitch that’s turned heads his entire career to date. He’s the owner of a 12.2 K/9 in his pro career in the minors to date, and while that doesn’t include any experience above AA, he likely would’ve been in AAA at some point in 2020 had there actually been a minor league season.
In Hembree, the Reds are getting the opposite of a rookie, as he’s been in the big leagues in each of the last 8 seasons between San Francisco, Boston, and Philadelphia. Now 32, he relies on a mid-90s fastball and slider most of the time, with an occasional slower curve mixed in, too. He struggled in 2020 between the Red Sox and Phillies while allowing an alarming 9 dingers in just 19.0 IP, but prior to that had pitched to a tidy 3.59 ERA and 127 ERA+ over the previous five seasons combined, striking out over a batter per inning in that time.
Hembree’s activation didn’t require someone else getting booted off the 40-man roster since there was a spot vacated by Cam Bedrosian earlier in the week when he opted to hit the free agent market after being DFA’d.
Perez is an electric lefty and one who will most certainly be back with the Reds in some form or fashion soon, but he’d struggled mightily to find the strike zone in recent outings. In Schrock, it’s a tad surprising to see him sent down while Mike Moustakas is on the 10-day IL, but Alex Blandino has looked plenty good at 3B and at the plate in limited action and Kyle Farmer’s infield versatility means there should still be ample cover on the left side of the infield for now. And with so few of the arms in the current bullpen having any options left, that meant Schrock was the logical choice for the time being, even if that means the bench is a bat short.