Reds starter Trevor Bauer pitches against the Cubs on Friday, Aug. 9, 2019, at Great American Ball Park in Cincinnati. David Jablonski/Staff

Ask Hal: Is pitching good enough for Reds to compete against top teams in NL?

Hall of Fame baseball writer Hal McCoy knows a thing or two about our nation’s pastime. Tap into that knowledge by sending an email to halmccoy1@hotmail.com.

Q: If you got word that the Cincinnati Reds were illegally stealing signs would you become a snitch? — DAVE, Miamisburg/Centerville/Beavercreek.

A: No, I wouldn’t be a snitch, I would be a professional journalist and report it. When reports of Pete Rose gambling on baseball began to surface in 1989, my sports editor knew I was friends with Rose and asked, “Can you report on this?” I said, “Yes, I like to think I’m a professional.” So I did and lost Rose’s friendship for about 15 years, but retained my professional integrity.

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Q: Can the Reds compete with the top teams in the National League with the pitching they have? — JACKI, Dayton.

A: On paper, the Reds should have one of the top rotations in the league. Unfortunately, they don’t play games on paper and the hope is that the rotation isn’t Paper Mache. Luis Castillo, Sonny Gray, Trevor Bauer, Anthony DeSclafani and Wade Miley should be top shelf. But there are always injuries to consider, off years to consider and the opposition to consider. For sure, Bauer needs to pitch better than he did for the Reds late last season. And if he decides to signal what pitch he is going to throw to the hitters, it could get ugly for him. But he did retire the Dodgers hitter he did that to, so maybe he should keep doing it.

Q: I know Tucker Barnhart is entrenched as the Reds No. 1 catcher, but does the team have any serious catching prospects? — KEITH, Brookville.

A: Barnhart’s ‘entrenchment’ is rather shallow. Curt Casali, the backup last year, is right on Barnhart’s shin guards. And the Reds drafted catcher Tyler Stephenson No. 1 in 2015. He was plucked right out of high school, so it took longer for him to develop. And he suffered some injuries early in his career that pushed him back. But he is major-league ready and will get a long look this spring and probably start in Triple-A, where he is just an injury or prolonged slump away.

Q: Can you tell us how you really feel about analytics in baseball? — MESA BILL, Tipp City.

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A: I can and will. I don’t like them. But they are here to stay. Oh, they have their place, but they shouldn’t be the end-all. They are taking too much of the human element out of the game and turning players into robots. Because of analytics, we have spin rate and launch angle and exit speed. That translates into scrawny second basemen becoming power hitters. Analytics don’t seem to put much faith in stolen bases, bunts and hit-and-run. They just aren’t playing the game I played as a kid.

Q: Why is Scott Schebler taking at bats away from other players? — MARK, Dayton.

A: It is early in spring training and a lot of guys are getting at bats. With all the outfielders the Reds have, it won’t last long. With his struggles early last year and his below par season at Triple-A, Schebler is so far down the pecking order he probably needs to hit .700 this spring to make the team.

Q: How can the Houston Astros gain back respect from MLB fans? — JOE, Kettering.

A: A good start is getting rid of the trash cans in their dugout. Their apologies for the illegal sign-stealing were feeble, at best. They could give back the World Series trophy, but they won’t. Respect has to be earned and the Astros won’t have any for a long, long time. Players on the other teams disdain them. In their first seven spring games they were hit by pitches seven times. Expect it to continue all season long.

Q: What new rule changes can we look forward to hating? — JOE, Englewood.

A: The one major change: All pitchers, both starters and relievers, have to face at least three batters or pitch until the inning is over. The only exception is an injury or illness that prevents the pitcher from being able to finish his three batters. Oh, boy. How many times are we going to see a pitcher grab his arm in mock pain after giving up a grand slam to the first batter he faces? It will eliminate managers from changing pitchers four times to four hitters to get the left vs. left and right vs right scenario they all love so much. But there were times with the Reds in the past when you didn’t want to see certain relief pitchers face one batter, let alone three.

Q: What was the best part of spring training for you? — ALAN, Sugarcreek Twp.

A: Sun, sun and more sun. And after a long winter’s nap away from baseball, it is great to see the rebirth of the grand ol’ game. And it is fun interacting with the players because they are all happy to be there, too. None are yet bummed out by low batting averages or high earned run averages.

Q: Is your friend Ray Snedegar driving you to Reds home games again this season? — JEFF, Troy.

A: Indeed, he is. Even though he is not paid and his drive is 221 miles round trip each game, he is ready, willing and more than able. At the end of last season I asked if he wanted to do it again this year and he said, “I thought you’d never ask.” He has become a fixture in the press box and knows everybody, including all the security staff and concessionaires. To him, strangers do not exist.

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