CINCINNATI — Can Cincinnati's rotation make it through spring training intact for once?
The Reds' starting pitchers haven't done well in Arizona lately. Last year, Homer Bailey needed elbow surgery before camp even opened, and it just got worse as it went along. Anthony DeSclafani developed a sore pitching elbow and never threw an inning.
Left-hander Brandon Finnegan actually made it to the season, but wound up limited to four games because of a strained back and a dislocated shoulder. Together, the Reds' top three starters managed a total of 22 starts, the biggest factor in Cincinnati's third straight 90-loss season.
All three are back and healthy — for the moment — as the last-place team opens training camp hoping to finally make up some ground in the NL Central.
"Having a fully healthy Homer Bailey, Brandon Finnegan and Anthony DeSclafani, there's a lot of reason to believe we've finally got there," manager Bryan Price said. "The young guys are going to continue to work hard and get confidence and consistency at this level. Having the stabilizing factor of some of our experienced pitchers will certainly benefit us."
It's been a long, painful rebuild in Cincinnati, which won 90 games in 2013, fired manager Dusty Baker and embarked on a total makeover. Pitching has been the biggest problem. The staff gave up the most homers in the majors last season and was last in the NL in runs, walks and ERA at 5.17. With all the injuries, the Reds called up rookies before they were ready.
Things started to settle down in the second half of the season — Cincinnati went 15-14 in August for its only winning month — and some of the young pitchers showed moments of promise. But if the veteran starters can't stay healthy, it'll be another season of growing pains.
"We've asked our fans to be patient as we go through this transition," Price said. "What we saw the second half of last season was the performance we wanted to see a couple years ago."
Some things to watch as the Reds open camp in Goodyear, Arizona:
NEW LOOK: The bullpen gave up the most walks and runs in the NL last season and was the main focus in free agency. Cincinnati signed late-inning relievers Jared Hughes and David Hernandez. Closer Raisel Iglesias returns after converting 28 of 30 save chances.
ROOKIES TO WATCH: Right-hander Luis Castillo is slotted as the No. 4 starter after posting a 3.12 ERA in 15 games last season. A group of young starters is competing for the fifth spot. Instead of signing a veteran starter, general manager Dick Williams decided to give the youngsters another chance and hope for the best.
"We want to make sure we have depth in the starting rotation," Williams said. "We've got a lot of good young guys with options that we still believe in as starters, and we want to give them the opportunity to start."
THEY'RE SET: The Reds have starters back at seven spots led by first baseman Joey Votto, who finished second in the NL Most Valuable Player voting. Scooter Gennett is back at second base after his best season, joining Lou Gehrig as the only players in major league history with a four-homer game and four grand slams in a season.
THEY'RE NOT: The Reds let shortstop Zack Cozart leave as a free agent following his All-Star season — .297, 24 homers, 63 RBIs. Jose Peraza (.259, 5 homers, 37 RBIs) moves over from second base. The Reds expect a drop-off at the spot offensively.
ON DECK: Every twitch and ache by a veteran starter will be the big news. Also, catcher Devin Mesoraco is making yet another comeback from injuries, this time from hip, shoulder and foot problems. In the past three seasons, he's played in only 95 games combined with six homers and 17 RBIs.