CINCINNATI — After injuries forced 34-year-old veteran Scott Feldman to make the Opening Day start on Monday for Cincinnati, the Reds now can return to the youth movement with Brandon Finnegan taking the mound against Philadelphia on Wednesday.
Coverage begins at 6:30 p.m. on FOX Sports Ohio
Finnegan, 23, is among the centerpieces of a Reds’ rebuild centered around their young pitching. He had a 7.63 ERA in five spring training starts, but manager Bryan Price likes what he has seen from the young left-hander.
“The challenge I’ve put in front of him is to push to continue to get better,” Price said. “There’s so much room for improvement. He goes as his command goes. When his three pitches all show up, and he has the fastball, slider, and changeup, he can be really effective.”
At his best, Finnegan is getting groundballs and strikeouts, but where he runs into trouble is when the pitch-count gets elevated early. He averaged 5.5 innings per start last year with a 3.98 ERA.
“He competes like crazy,” said Price. “He’s as good a competitor as we have on the staff. He wants to be a really good pitcher.”
Price is looking for more from his offense on Wednesday against Phillies right-hander Jerad Eickhoff.
In a 4-3 loss on Opening Day, the Reds were 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position and stranded seven runners. Aside from Scooter Gennett’s two-run homer in the ninth off Jeanmar Gomez, the offense was listless.
“They got those three runs in the first two innings and they didn’t get any more,” said Price of the Phillies.
Eickhoff has never faced the Reds.
After making the Opening Day roster last year for the first time his career, he finished tied for third in the National League with 33 starts, going 11-14 with a 3.65 ERA.
Eickhoff worked extensively on his off-speed pitches during spring training, most notably his changeup. His 7.47 ERA aside, Eickhoff did strike out 33 batters with only eight walks in 31 1/3 innings in 11 spring outings.
“I feel very comfortable with him,” manager Pete Mackanin told MLB.com in the spring. “I know what he’s capable of doing.”
Mackanin also saw the potential of his offense in the opener with the Phillies slugging two homers with four doubles and a triple among their 10 hits.
“In general, we swung the bats really good,” Mackanin said. “That’s part of the plan. We want to grind out at-bats and not waste at-bats.”
Finnegan faced Philadelphia twice last season, going 1-1 with a 4.50 ERA with five earned runs allowed and 13 strikeouts with six walks in 10 innings. The Phillies hit just .222 against him. The only player with more than one hit off Finnegan was Freddy Galvis, who homered in Monday’s win.
This series is a homecoming of sorts for Mackanin, who managed the Reds on an interim basis in 2007, posting a 41-39 record after replacing Jerry Narron in July of that year.
The Phillies and Reds are meeting in the opening series of the season at Great American Ball Park for the second straight year. Cincinnati swept a three-game series from the Phillies to begin the 2016 campaign.