Brandon Finnegan uses improved stuff to catapult to Reds ace

Sure, Scott Feldman got the Opening Day nod for the Reds because of experience.

Does that ultimately matter in the long run? No. Does this mean that the starter of the second game cannot be more of an ace? Absolutely not.

What Brandon Finnegan did last night was show that he is the first ace that the Reds staff has seen since the man he was traded for, Johnny Cueto.

Finnegan gave the Phillies lineup the knife on warm butter treatment, as he shredded through it with efficient innings and dominant stuff. He threw strikes with a fastball possessing some more giddy up.

However, most importantly, Finnegan used his changeup efficiently. That was the key to his success at the end of last season. In his last eight starts of 2016, once he started throwing the pitch more, Finnegan allowed 24 earned runs and 31 strikeouts in 47.2 innings. Eight of those earned runs came in his final start of the season over just 2.1 innings at Washington.

According to PitchFX, Finnegan was averaging two to three miles per hour faster on his fastball on Wednesday than he averaged in 2016. What that means is the changeup has even more value. In his season opener, Finnegan was still fastball dominant, tossing the pitch 53 times. However, he also threw 15 changeups. To put in perspective, he used the pitch 51 total times in 2015 and just under 12 percent of the time last season. Making it up around 17 percent of the time on Wednesday appears to be more of a magic number for success.

One question has been Finnegan’s durability and how deep he can go into games as a starter. He worked into the seventh in five of his last eight starts last season and on Wednesday as well. He is certainly a maximum effort starter, but adding to his control has allowed him to go deeper into games.

In those final eight starts of 2016, Finnegan walked under three hitters in a start just once. He totaled 26 walks over those 47.2 innings. On Wednesday, Finnegan walked just one over seven innings, and tossed 58 of his 88 pitches for strikes.

This allowed the Reds to bridge straight to the dominant end of the bullpen with Michael Lorenzen and then Raisel Iglesias.

While it is certainly too soon to say that Finnegan is on track to be as good as Cueto over his career with the Reds, but Wednesday night was certainly a huge step in the right direction.

Focus on the changeup usage and throwing strikes as consistently are the keys to getting there. Plus, Finnegan is just 23-years-old and entering his fourth season of MLB experience.

Regardless, the Opening Day start did not show who the true ace is on the staff. Now it is just time to sit back and enjoy watching the lefty progress even more in 2017.

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