Reds pitching coach Derek Johnson suggested in late September that right-hander Michael Lorenzen had “put himself in the conversation” for a rotation job in 2021. Lorenzen echoed that idea and perhaps took things a step further today in an appearance on MLB Network Radio on SiriusXM, telling hosts Jim Duquette and Jon Morosi that plans to report to Spring Training as a starting pitcher (Twitter link, with audio).
“My expectation is to show up as a starter and to finish the season as a starter,” said Lorenzen. “That’s where my mind is at, and I’m excited for it.”
The 28-year-old Lorenzen (29 in January) isn’t exactly a stranger to the starting rotation, having started 21 games as a rookie back in 2015. He made a pair of September starts for the Reds in 2020 as well, although he spent the entirety of the 2016-19 seasons working in relief as one of the team’s top setup men.
Lorenzen is a hyperathletic player who has been utilized in two-way fashion by the Reds. He’s an oft-used pinch-hitter and pinch-runner who carries a career .235/.284/.432 batting line and seven home runs through 146 plate appearances. Lorenzen is also 5-for-7 in career stolen base attempts and has graded out as an above-average defensive outfielder. The Reds think highly enough of his glove and bat that they started him as their center fielder six times in 2019,
Things haven’t panned out for Lorenzen in the rotation to this point in his career, though his only real chance came back in that 2015 rookie effort. His two starts in 2020 netted positive results: three runs on seven hits and two walks with 14 strikeouts in 9 2/3 innings against the Pirates and White Sox.
That Lorenzen will be given this opportunity is also notable given the potential greater implications for the Reds. Cincinnati could see both Trevor Bauer and Anthony DeSclafani depart via free agency, and plugging Lorenzen into one of those spots would make for an affordable alternative solution. He’s arbitration-eligible for the final time this winter and projected to earn a modest bump to a $4MM salary. A successful move to the rotation would certainly bode well for the right-hander’s earning power next winter, too.
The Reds have suggested that they’ll do everything in their power to retain Bauer, the clear-cut top arm on the free-agent market this winter, but it’s widely expected that he’ll land a more lucrative deal elsewhere. If that indeed proves to be the case, the Reds will head into 2021 with a still-strong group of Sonny Gray, Luis Castillo and Wade Miley atop their starting staff.
Lorenzen won’t simply be penciled into the starting mix, but he joins Tyler Mahle and Tejay Antone (among others) as potential in-house options to round out the group. It still wouldn’t be a surprise to see the Reds pick up a veteran starter this winter — particularly if Bauer departs — but a role change for Lorenzen could play a role both the club’s rotation and bullpen pursuits this winter.