There’s no time like the present for Sean Marshall.
Talk about being thrown into the fire, eh? Being activated from the DL after nearly four months since he landed on the DL with a sprained elbow, the Cincinnati Reds reliever will try to get back into the swing of things when they count most: with the team being in a NL Central race at 2.5 games back of the leaders, and their playoff lives not quite secure yet with the hard-charging Washington Nationals being closer than they appear.
Does that serve as extra motivation, or increase the potential for failure? Will Marshall be a factor in the postseason?
Given his former status as the team’s setup man prior to his lengthy absence, you’d think that the team would certainly want him involved in the late innings. That said, it’s unlikely that they’re going to ease him into that kind of high-leverage role right away.
Due to the end of the minor league season in September, the lefty did not get a rehab assignment in, and the team will likely want to see how he fares in a couple of live game situations against major league hitters before moving onto the next step. The problem? Barring the team dealing a blowout, let’s just say the kind of low-leverage situations that would be best for this purpose aren’t something the Reds really want to see.
Still, make no mistake about it — should Marshall show that he’s ready, he should absolutely be able to help the team down the stretch and should be included in the postseason roster.
Yes, both Manny Parra and Zach Duke are currently ahead of him given that they’ve been able to pitch, but despite the former’s 11.45 K/9 over 41.2 innings and the fact that the latter has yet to allow a walk in nine appearances and owns a 1.59 ERA, neither is them’s best option for a lefty.
In short, Marshall brings a combination of skills that neither possess. Yes, Parra strikes guys out, but he has also walked batters at an alarming 6.75 BB/9 rate over seven appearances in September (3.93 in second half)– far from a reliable number when you consider that Marshall also brings swing-and-miss abilities with a 10.92 K/9 last season (seven Ks in 7.0 IP in 2013), but hasn’t walked more than three batters per nine since 2010.
As for Duke, well, let’s just say that the track record is somewhat dubious. After years of being unable to cut it as a starter, he throw 13.2 innings of excellent relief last season for the Nats, and promptly became one of the worst relief pitchers in the bigs earlier this year, posting a 8.71/1.89 ERA/WHIP and a .337 BAA over 20.2 innings.
He has been mostly clean since his time with the Reds, but there’s good reason to believe that it won’t last based on past precedent. With Marshall’s track record of being one of the best relievers in the league over the last three seasons (his 6.2 fWAR from 2010-2012 is second among all MLB relievers, second only to Craig Kimbrel‘s 6.9 — think about that for a second), a betting man would probably take the larger sample size into the playoffs.
Still, injuries are tricky things, and he’s hard to say whether the 31-year old Marshall will immediately return to form.
Even if he takes a few innings to get back there though, it would behoove the rests to give him that chance as soon as possible because there just aren’t too many opportunities left. Not only is he the best lefty on the team who isn’t named Aroldis Chapman, but he’s probably the best setup option they’ve got as well.