The Reds’ firing of first-year pitching coach Mark Riggins on Monday was out of character for Walt Jocketty, who is in his final season as the team’s president of baseball operations.
Jocketty, even in difficult times, generally has resisted making in-season coaching changes in his 22 years as a lead baseball executive for the Cardinals and Reds.
While the removal of Riggins was easily justified — the Reds entered Wednesday last in the majors in ERA by nearly a half-run per nine innings, and last in bullpen ERA by nearly a full run — it was more a reflection of owner Bob Castellini’s frustration than Jocketty’s desire to assign blame, according to major-league sources.
Which leads to an obvious question:
Is manager Bryan Price next?
Jocketty, in an interview with FOX Sports on Wednesday, said the answer is no.
“We don’t anticipate any other changes. I told (Price) that. I told the rest of the staff that the other day,” Jocketty said.
“Right now, we’ve just got to go into the second half and keep improving as best we can and developing these young players. We have seen improvement throughout the season. We’ve just got to continue to do that and take a positive approach and keep guys from losing confidence.”
The Reds, who at 31-54 entered Wednesday with the third-worst record in the majors, are in transition on multiple fronts.
Their front office is evolving, with Jocketty moving into an advisory role next season and general manager Dick Williams assuming full control of baseball operations.
Their roster continues to evolve as well.
The team is almost certain to trade right fielder Jay Bruce and others before the Aug. 1 non-waiver deadline. It also is seeking to increase the playing time of Jose Peraza, perhaps at the expense of longtime second baseman Brandon Phillips, who last offseason used his no-trade protection to thwart deals to the Diamondbacks and Nationals.
The Reds’ immediate focus, though, is pitching.
Jocketty, when asked who was responsible for the team’s decision to replace Riggins with bullpen coach Mack Jenkins, declined to comment, saying, “I’m not going to get into that.”
“It was just a discussion we had internally,” Jocketty said. “We didn’t see enough improvement in certain guys. It wasn’t anything that Mark did or didn’t do. We wanted to see if a different perspective, different approach, would work better.
“It’s unfortunate because Mark is a hard worker. He did a great job as our pitching coordinator and did a good job (as pitching coach). But we weren’t seeing enough results. We thought maybe a different voice would make a difference.”
The returns late last month of two injured pitchers, right-handers Raisel Iglesias and Michael Lorenzen, could help the Reds’ bullpen; Jocketty said that both should be ready to assume regular roles after the All-Star break.
Right-hander Homer Bailey, who is currently on a rehabilitation assignment as he completes his recovery from Tommy John surgery, also figures to be back in the second half. Righty Robert Stephenson, a top prospect, could contribute as well.
Meanwhile, the Reds also are working on other fronts, fielding calls on trades while starting Peraza at four positions — second base, shortstop, left field and center.
Peraza, 22, was the key player the Reds obtained last offseason in the three-team Todd Frazier trade (outfielder Adam Duvall, acquired last summer in the Mike Leake deal, was named to the NL All-Star team on Tuesday).
The Braves originally signed Peraza as a shortstop, but moved him to second base in 2014. Phillips, earning $13 million this season and $14 million next season, is blocking Peraza from playing second with the Reds.
Peraza’s situation, Jocketty said, is “difficult with the makeup of our club right now. Bryan is being as creative as he can, to put him in left, put him in center, put him at second when Brandon needs a day off, same with (Zack) Cozart at short.
“There are a lot of different ways that we’ll use him. It’s not the most ideal way to develop a guy but that’s what we have.”
The Reds’ options with Peraza include continuing to bounce him between positions to get regular at-bats as well as returning him to the minors to play every day.
Club officials also could attempt to force the issue with Phillips in the coming weeks.
Jocketty said the team is not considering moving on from Phillips, who was batting .248 with a .650 OPS entering Wednesday. But Phillips had batted third or fourth all season before the Reds dropped him to sixth on Saturday.
At some point, the team could tell him that it plans to reduce his playing time and ask him if he would be comfortable going to another club.
Such a deal would not need to happen before the Aug. 1 non-waiver deadline; Phillips likely would clear waivers in August. The Reds, given Phillips’ decline, likely would need to pay a significant portion of his remaining salary to facilitate a deal, and even then probably would get only a limited return.
As for other moves, the Dodgers and Nationals are among the teams interested in Bruce, according to major-league sources, and the Indians are another reported possibility.
Most contenders are set at shortstop, so the market for Cozart might not develop more fully until the offseason. The Reds could draw interest in right-handers Blake Wood, Ross Ohlendorf and Dan Straily, but such moves would be relatively minor.
“We’re fielding calls from clubs, but I don’t think it’s that active right now,” Jocketty said. “We’re still in that transitioning, rebuilding mode. Anything we can do to improve the club, we’ll pursue. We’ve had a few clubs inquire, but nothing on the front burner, for sure.”
Mark Riggins (Rick Yeatts/Getty Images)
Walt Jocketty (Alex Trautwig/MLB Photos via Getty Images)