When the Cincinnati Reds drafted Nick Howard out of Virginia in 2014 they stated that they wanted to move him back to a starting pitcher, where he pitched as a sophomore at Virginia before moving into their closers role as a junior. Some questioned the move because as a starter the year before his stuff wasn’t nearly the same as it was when he was closing. Keith Law in particular stood out for his opinion that Howard was a reliever.
The Reds began Howard in the bullpen after he signed, sending him to Dayton where he made six relief appearances before joining the rotation for five starts to finish the season. As a starter he threw 23.2 innings with eight walks and 14 strikeouts while posting a 4.18 ERA. The good news was that his fastball velocity held up well, a concern that was out there given that at Virginia he sat 90-92 as a starter. He was well above that range with Dayton.
The team then sent the right hander to the Arizona Fall League to continue working as a starter and while he struggled some, posting a 6.57 ERA with seven walks and seven strikeouts, it was just 12.1 innings. Like in Dayton, the fastball velocity was strong, averaging 94 MPH and he topped out at 97.
Howard joined the Daytona Tortugas to begin his 2015 season and his first two starts saw him throw 10.0 innings without an earned run and just four hits, but he walked nine batters with just seven strikeouts. Perhaps it was a blip on the radar. Then he lasted 2.0, 3.2 and 3.0 innings in his next three starts, walking 14 batters in that span and giving up 10 earned runs. The struggle to throw strikes had continued for five starts, walking at least four batters in every outing.
The Reds even had him skip his next start. He didn’t pitch for 10 days before he joined the Tortugas bullpen on May 16th. The 2013 1st rounder fired a perfect inning with a strikeout. He would make a second appearance last night out of the bullpen, throwing a hitless inning with a walk and a strikeout.
With the history of Howard’s success in college out of the bullpen, it’s reasonable to think that he could be better suited for the relief role and with two straight appearances after a month of struggles in the rotation, the question had to be asked: Is this the role for Nick Howard moving forward?
No, it’s not. At least that’s not the plan right now. I spoke with a source who told me that the move to the bullpen for Howard is temporary. It’s a move that’s to try and get some things straightened out and that the plan is to move him back into the rotation when those things are worked out.
As a starter you throw twice a week. You get to pitch in the game and then you work during your side session. There are more pitches to work with, throwing 120 on game day if we include the real warm up pitches in the bullpen prior to going out to the mound and then what you throw in the game and then another 40-50 in your side session, though they aren’t usually at 100% either.
Coming out of the bullpen you don’t get as many pitches, but you are throwing more often and you can work on side sessions with the pitching coach more often since you don’t need as many rest days between sessions. This scenario could present a better opportunity to work on things for a pitcher who is struggling, even if he is getting less time on the mound overall because it gives him the chance to work directly with the coach more and focus specifically on the issues at hand.