CINCINNATI — The delayed Reds debut of veteran starting pitcher Mike Minor on Friday vs. the Nationals was to be symbolic of the team’s rotation being as close to whole as it’s been all season. That could still eventually be the case, but the first start definitely didn’t end well.
Minor was finished after four innings and allowed three home runs during an 8-5 loss to Washington at Great American Ball Park.
“This wasn’t the way I wanted it to go,” said Minor, who threw 60 pitches. “I was glad to get out there, glad to compete. You’ve got to start somewhere.”
Minor finished with five earned runs and six hits while not walking a batter and striking out four.
A pitcher who relies on fastball location, he didn’t fool hitters with it. His 29 fastballs garnered 12 swings and no misses. According to Statcast, all of his pitches had an average exit velocity of 94.7 mph.
“He’s going to get sharper as he goes,” Reds manager David Bell said. “First time out, it’s good to get that one out of the way and we’ll look forward to his next time out.”
Pitching with a 2-0 lead following Tommy Pham’s two-run homer to center field in the bottom of the first inning, Minor opened the top of the second with Nelson Cruz slugging a 1-1 changeup to left field for a leadoff homer.
Trouble accelerated for Minor in the third inning. Following a one-out double by Victor Robles and an RBI single by César Hernández, Lane Thomas hit the first of his three homers in the game — a two-run drive to left field on a 1-2 fastball. Juan Soto clobbered a 1-0 fastball to right field for back-to-back homers. The 110.3 mph drive from Soto made it a 5-2 game.
“I felt like I didn’t mix the pitches well,” Minor said. “I think I threw two curveballs the whole night. At the end I threw some better sliders to get some guys. Mainly it was just my fastball and changeup. With big league guys, you’ve got to mix it a little bit more. And my fastball was leaking over [the plate] a little bit. They hit some good ones and the ones [down the] middle, they really hit.”
Minor’s rough night interrupted a relatively strong stretch for the Reds’ rotation, which was 6-1 with a 2.62 ERA over its previous eight starts. The 34-year-old left-hander gives Cincinnati a different look amid the four right-handed power arms of Luis Castillo, Tyler Mahle, Hunter Greene and recently-arrived rookie Graham Ashcraft.
At some point, lefty prospect Nick Lodolo will return from the back injury that put him on the injured list April 28. Lodolo is throwing off a mound again and could return later this month if there are no setbacks. How he will fit into the group again remains to be seen.
On the heels of a Spring Training roster purge to meet ownership’s desire to reduce payroll, the Reds acquired Minor and his $10 million salary from the Royals on March 16 for reliever Amir Garrett.
Shortly after his arrival, Minor came down with a shoulder injury that kept him from making a start in camp. Following an April setback that stopped his first rehab assignment after 1 2/3 innings, he successfully completed four rehab starts this month with Triple-A Louisville.
“Mike has been pitching for a long time, he’s been a really good pitcher for a long time,” Bell said. “First time out, he was ready, he was prepared. He got plenty of work in but still, it’s different coming into a big league game in the middle of a season. I know he expected more out of himself tonight but it takes some time to settle in and he’s going to be fine. He’s healthy and that’s the main thing.”
In future starts, Minor is expected to compile a larger share of innings. He will work with pitching coach Derek Johnson between starts.
“I’m just trying to get as many quality starts as I can. Focus on the next one,” Minor said. “Go through the game plan, work this week, talk to D.J. and see what he saw, look at all the film. Basically do what I’ve been doing my whole career. You’ll have bad ones. You can’t really dwell on that. You’ve got to look forward.”