Carson Spiers Could Bid For 2024 Spot In Cincinnati Reds’ Rotation

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SURPRISE, AZ – The dateline tells the story of Carson Spiers’ professional pitching career.

The right-hander has been a pleasant surprise for the Cincinnati Reds and is on the cusp of being a reliable MLB pitcher. Not bad for a guy who went undrafted, worked only in relief in college, and doesn’t have any pitches that make a radar gun go tilt.

In 71 games at Clemson, Spiers was overshadowed by others who made the majors after being drafted – Charlie Barnes (Twins), Jeremy Beasley (Angels), Paul Campbell (Rays) and Spencer Strider (Braves), who went 20-5 this year for Atlanta. Spiers’ stats were pretty good: 2.47 ERA, only 70 hits and 38 walks allowed over 109 1/3 innings with 341 strikeouts.

He just didn’t have one dominant pitch that caught a scout’s eye. He did have several average offerings that with work might make a difference someday. With work. And more work.

The Reds took a chance. In September, the nephew of 13-year MLB infielder Bill Spiers made his big-league debut for them. In four brief appearances including two starts, the most notable thing he did was get a save in a 19-2 win over the St. Louis Cardinals on Sept. 29. How’s that? He worked three innings without relinquishing what was a 14-2 lead. That qualifies.

A gift, no doubt, yet one earned by three years of work in the minors. The Reds, eager to see more, sent him to the Arizona Fall League. He went 4-1 with a 3.00 ERA in five starts. Most impressive was 20 strikeouts in 18 innings and only one walk.

In Arizona, he had good command of five pitches. His four-seam fastball was around 92-93 mph but hit 95. He mixed in a two-seam cutter, mid-80s slider, upper-70s curve and a changeup in the low 80s with some fade. That’s the stuff of a reliable No. 4 or No. 5 rotation guy.

Spiers credits former Reds minor-league pitching coordinator Kyle Boddy with helping his progress. He told David Laurila of FanGraphs in April 2022 that he’s always had a determined approach and that Boddy and Brian Garman, the pitching coach at Class A Dayton, laid the groundwork for his improvement.

“I’ve put in a lot of work, including with Kyle, and it’s not all what you see on the mound,” Spiers said then. “There is a lot of behind the scenes work, like tweaking pitch grips and pressure points on the baseball. Those kind of played into it. I’ve learned a ton. I was always a good thrower, but I tell people now that I’m actually a pretty good pitcher. I know how to pitch; I know how to attack batters and how to set up batters.”

Strike-throwers Are Not Walkovers

The trend in baseball for the past decade has been to bring one fire-breathing pitcher after another into a game, launching heat-seeking missiles past batters. The problem has been that more pitchers than ever ended up on the operating table and out of action for a year or more.

Front offices are grudgingly wising up and seeking pitchers in addition to throwers. They have been there all the time, utilized only by old-school managers who dared employ the time-tested basic pitching philosophy that a guy’s best pitch is not necessarily a 103-mph fastball but any speed offering that results in strike one.

Two guys who lasted quite a while – giving hope to Spiers and others like him – were Carlos Silva and Josh Tomlin.

Silva had only a 70-70 record for four MLB teams over nine seasons. His calling card was giving up only 1.7 walks per nine innings over 316 games. He had a 14-8 record for the Minnesota Twins in 2004 and a year later issued only nine walks in 188 1/3 innings while going 9-8.

Tomlin was even stingier with free passes while going 69-56 in nine years with Cleveland and three more in Atlanta. He gave up only 153 walks in 1,067 career innings, striking out 736.

He helped Cleveland to the 2016 World Series by going 13-9 with only 20 walks in 174 innings. He beat both Boston and Toronto in the AL playoffs and worked 4 2/3 innings of two-hit ball in Game 3 of the World Series, a 1-0 win over the Chicago Cubs.

He was hit hard in Game 6, however, a 9-3 loss.

Such is the fate of strike-throwers who pitch on a tightrope without the benefit of a warp-speed fastball safety net. There’s not as much margin for error.

Harder, Yet Not Necessarily Harder

Perhaps the most successful pitcher of this type carved out a 20-year career at the height of the greatest period of offense the game ever saw in the 1930s. Mel Harder looked more like a schoolteacher than ballplayer, especially when paired up against sluggers he faced every day: Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx, Hank Greenberg, Al Simmons, Joe DiMaggio, Goose Goslin, Ted Williams and others. And that was only in the American League.

Harder’s curve and changeup were really on display in the All-Star Game when he mastered the best of the best from the National League:

· 1934: 5 innings, 1 hit, 1 walk, 2 strikeouts, W

· 1935: 3 innings, 1 hit, 1 strikeout, SAVE

· 1936: 2 innings, 2 hits, 2 strikeouts

· 1937: 3 innings, 5 hits, SAVE

He gave up zero runs over 13 innings. Among those he faced were these eventual Hall of Famers:

· Dizzy Dean, lineout

· Frankie Frisch, lineout

· Gabby Hartnett, lineout

· Billy Herman, 2 singles, 2 groundouts, double

· Chuck Klein, reached on error, groundout

· Al Lopez, strikeout, groundout

· Pepper Martin, groundout

· Joe Medwick, groundout, popout, double, single

· Johnny Mize, flyout

· Mel Ott, groundout, strikeout, single

· Bill Terry, groundout

· Pie Traynor, flyout, groundout

· Arky Vaughn, 3 groundouts, single

· Paul Waner, 3 groundouts, popout

Only three others pitched 20 or more seasons for one team: Red Faber (1914-33, White Sox); Walter Johnson (1907-27, Senators); and Ted Lyons (1923-46, White Sox). All are in the Hall of Fame. Cleveland’s legendary Bob Feller, who was Harder’s teammate (1936-47) said Harder’s 223-186 record and 3.80 ERA belongs, too.

Feller pointed out Harder’s contributions as Cleveland’s pitching coach from 1948 through 1963 when he instructed Hall of Famers Bob Lemon and Early Wynn along with 20-game winners Gene Bearden, Mike Garcia, Herb Score, Jim (Mudcat) Grant, Jim Perry, Dick Donovan, Sam McDowell, Tommy John and Luis Tiant.

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