Homer Bailey was hunting instead of rehabbing injuries this past winter, but back to work, he made his first Cactus League start since 2014 Sunday against the Cleveland Indians.
Bailey has pitched more on the backfield of the Reds’ complex in Goodyear than at the ball park, a mile away.
Reds’ manager Bryan Price is counting on the 31-year old, the Reds’ first-round pick in 2004, to return to the top of the starting rotation.
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“I finally had a normal winter, you might say,” Bailey said.
Bailey was on his way to making that pick look good with back-to-back seasons in which he made over 30 starts. In 2012 he won 13 games, including a no-hitter against Pittsburgh, and was tied for the National League lead with 33 starts.
Bailey followed that with 32 starts in 2013. He threw another no-hitter against San Francisco, one of his 11 wins in 25 decisions. Bailey established a career high with 209 innings, the second straight season he was over 200 innings .
The Reds chose to sign Bailey long term instead of Johnny Cueto. The six-year, $105 million contract looked like a great investment. Bailey won his ninth game on Aug. 7, 2014, with seven scoreless innings against the Cleveland Indians. He felt pain prior to his next start and missed the rest of the season. Surgery to repair the torn flexor tendon in his right forearm was the first of three surgeries that led to some long, dark winters.
“Last season I had surgery the week before I reported,” Bailey said. “The winter before that was actually fairly normal, its just when I started to do the rehab starts, that’s when the bone spur started to fracture. The winter before that I was barely throwing, at all. So this was a different change of pace.”
Bailey made rehab starts in Pensacola, Dayton and Louisville last season before joining the Reds on June 24 in Washington and it was an awful appearance. He lasted just 1 2/3 innings allowing eight earned runs on six hits and three walks.
“It was command rather than stuff,” Bailey said after that start. “If you’re not sharp it’s going to be a long day no matter what stuff you’re featuring.”
Bailey finished 2017 strong. He was 2-3 with a 3.58 ERA in his last seven starts, including seven scoreless in his final outing against Milwaukee.
“The stuff was there,” Price said. “When were talking about tough outings it was the command wasn’t there with the consistency that we had experienced in the years before the injuries. Homer’s a guy who can really pound fastball locations with really good accuracy. His other pitches are accessory pitches because he pitches off his fastball. We remember the no-hitters when he was throwing 97 or 98 in the last three innings and blowing fastballs past hitters, however, there was the shutout he threw in Pittsburgh, I think in 2011, he managed the game with lessor stuff. He can do it both ways.”
Senzel gets start
Nick Senzel, the 2016 star of the Dayton Dragons, made his first ever Cactus League start at third base, batting second. “We know he’s a really good player,” Price said. “He has to get in shape for the season. We’re certainly evaluating. He’ll get some time at short, as well as third base. Getting him acclimated to playing with guys at this level is an important step as he works his way to the big leagues.”